Expert to introduce aronia berry crop to area

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Aronia berries and high tunnel gardening are the wave of the future in Iowa, one expert says.

Dr. Eldon Everhart, horticulture specialist with Iowa State University (ISU), will lead an educational program on those topics Saturday, April 25.

The event, sponsored by ISU Extension and Floyd Valley Hospital, will be from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The program will start with a presentation on the aronia berry in the lower level meeting room at FVH.

Everhart said in a news release aronia berry crops are being planted by thousands of farmers in Iowa and neighboring states as Americans search for healthier foods.

"The aronia berry is considered three times healthier than a blueberry," he said. "It is also higher in antioxidants than cranberries, red grapes and all other commonly grown berry crops."

He said medical research has indicated that antioxidants help reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

"Aronia berries can be used in baked goods, jams and jellies or any other way that berries are used," Everhart said in a news release. "The berries are also used to make a dry wine or to blend with other wines."

Aronia berries are native to the United States, have no serious pests and are well-adapted to Iowa, Everhart said.

"The plants thrive in full sun on several types of soil, even on highly erodible land," he said. "Birds don't bother them nor do deer or other critters, and they do not need to be pruned or trained like grapes."

Everhart said another benefit to aronia berry plants is they are aesthetically pleasing for both home gardens and commercial landscapes.

"They are covered by white flowers in the spring, have dark green leaves in summer followed by a brilliant orange-red fall color," Everhart said. "The dark purple or black fruit persists well into the winter until songbirds finally eat them."

Following Everhart's aronia presentation, there will be a lunch provided. Then participants will board a chartered bus to tour C. Brown Gardens' high tunnel garden, near Le Mars.

High tunnels are not heated and the polyethylene plastic of the tunnels modify the climate for the plants inside, Everhart said.

"High tunnels are ventilated by roll-up sides, end vents and roof vents," he said. "Generally the tunnels extend the growing season, provide wind protection, make irrigation needs more manageable and increase fruit, vegetable production."

Carol Schneider, Plymouth County Extension Education Director, said bringing Everhart to the county was made possible with a grant received from the Iowa Department of Public Health through Iowans Fit For Life.

"Their whole purpose is to see Iowans eat more fruits and vegetables," Schneider said. "We'd like people in Plymouth County and beyond to come and participate in this educational program because it's so unique."

Pre-registration is required for the April 25 program. Reservations can be made by calling FVH, 712-546-3401, and will be taken through April 20.

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