Specializing in a new antioxidant berry on the block, aronia

Gloria Hafemeister
                               Rebecca Burgmeier processes products in a licensed kitchen and markets the healthy aronia berries in her own on-farm store and at numerous other locations. She also holds classes at her farm store to help people understand nutrition and health.

RUBICON - Burgie's Organics was established in 2006 as an organic hobby farm. In 2015, however, the farm evolved to specialize in a berry that is becoming more popular among consumers interested in healthy foods.

Now known as Burgies Berry Farm, the Burgmeier family is raising, processing and marketing aronia berries.

As the family researched crops that they could grow, they looked for a fruit crop that would be healthy to eat and provide environmental benefits, (i.e., longer term perennials than strawberries or more common fruits).

They also wanted to raise a crop that is easier to grow and can be marketed and priced so they are accessible to the majority of consumers.

Aronia, commonly known as "black chokeberry," fit all of those criteria.

It is different than chokeberry, however, in that the chokeberry leaves and stems and seeds contain toxic amounts of prussic acid. The aronia leaves do not and stems contain the same antioxidant qualities as the berries, which is why they also harvest the leaves and small stems and makes them into a healthy tea.

Rebecca Burgmeier, with a background in nursing, understands the importance of a healthy diet and disease prevention. She also understands the relationship between maintaining a healthy soil and producing a healthy crop.

Aronia berries are very high in antioxidants, three times more beneficial than blueberries.

She says, “We pride ourselves in practicing ethical sustainability. Preserving a healthy soil and ecosystem is a top priority to us. A depleted soil produces inferior end products. At our farm, we replenish our soil with organic colloidal minerals that are missing in our food today. You will be able to see and taste the difference.”

She understands that soils have been depleted in important minerals over the years and these minerals are then not getting into our foods. More than that, when minerals are lacking in the soil plants are not able to utilize other nutrients as well.

Working with a crop consultant she strives to balance the nutrients in the soil so more minerals are available to the crop.

Just as in the soil, our bodies cannot absorb certain nutrients without other minor nutrients. That’s why supplements, while helpful, cannot provide everything the body needs because the body has problems absorbing supplemental nutrients if other nutrients are not present.  When obtained from a food raised on balanced soil, more of the nutrients are available for the body to utilize.

Aronia is a shrub like blueberries but it is not as sensitive to soil and weather conditions. It comes into production two or three years after it is planted and then will produce for at least 30 years.  

Aronia are in the rose or apple family, but unlike apples, they do not require a pollinator for fertilization and fruit set. Like other fruit crops, aronia develops its next season’s fruit buds while maturing its current season’s crop. 

Aronia produces loose clusters of 10 to 15 berries at the ends of shoots. Individual berries are firm and about one-quarter inch in diameter. The fruit ripen from late August through mid-September. The fruit tend to hang well on the plant, allowing for a broad harvest window of four to six weeks.

Unlike blueberries, they do well in both acidic and alkaline soil and they survive well in both drought and flooding conditions.

Aronia does not appear to have any real insect or disease problems either.

This year, when many gardeners were plagued with problems from Asian beetles, she found the pests did come to the aronia berries but she was able to eradicate them with a combination of Neem and garlic (organically approved) and diatomaceous earth.

“I also found that it is helpful to plant a linden tree near the garden.  It seems to repel the Asian beetles,” she adds.

The family has found aronia to be low-maintenance with high processing versatility.

While it is easy to grow, marketing can be a challenge because of lack of consumer familiarity with it.  Also, aronia by itself is not as attractive because it has an acquired taste.  A blueberry, for instance, is juicy and pops when biting into it.  Aronia is more meaty. It seems to take on the flavor of the fruit it is mixed with.

She notes, “In Europe it is often blended with other juices. If you look at the ingredient list on their labels it is usually the first one listed.”

Europeans have long recognized that aronia is the highest of any fruit in antioxidants, three times better than blueberries.

Once they harvest the berries Rebecca and her daughters process them and market them either as dehydrated berries that are great in smoothies or mixed with yogurt or ice cream or other juices. She also freezes the organic aronia berries immediately after harvest. This retains the highest levels of phytonutrients.  

She sells dehydrated mixes, smoothie mixes, tea, juice and even wine.

Currently she does her processing in an area licensed kitchen but eventually she will have a licensed kitchen right in her store.

Burgies’ berry products can be found at: Willy Street Coop East, Willy Street Coop North & Willy Street Coop in Middleton, WI; Back to the Best Country Store, Rubicon, WI; Health Hut in Brookfield, West Allis, and Hales Corners; Slow Pokes, Grafton; On Lake Time, Fox Lake; Pride of Wisconsin, Hustisford; Brookfield Farmers Market; Luv Ice Cream,  Minnesota; Outpost Natural Foods - Mequon, Milwaukee, Bayview and Wauwatosa