A healthy addition a sweet business

JEWELL – From Johnny Appleseed to Andrew Pittz, the Heartland tradition of sharing new agricultural staples has grown into the 21st century.

Sixth-generation Iowa family farmer Pittz is travelling across all 99 counties planting aronia berry bush to say ‘thank you’ to the state that made this industry possible. Until Sawmill Hollow reintroduced the aronia berry nearly two decades ago, no farm in North America grew the then-endangered crop commercially. Today, more than 200 farm families compose the Sawmill Hollow “Farm Team.” The “Healthy Family, Farms and Communities” 99-county tour planting locations help tell the story of Iowa small business, agriculture, and community to celebrate shared successes. This week, a Jewell business was highlighted as an aronia bush was planted there.

According to Sawmill Hollow “Farmer-in-Chief” Andrew Pittz, “Iowan small businesses invest in our communities every day -growing our shared exchange – rural and urban, big and small, conventional and organic, we’re all working together to grow Iowa.”

In Jewell, Pittz highlighted one of Iowa’s tastiest business success stories. Pittz planted an aronia berry bush at Sweet Treats to recognize their creativity and commitment to growing the Iowan exchange.

“I first found my way to Sweet Treats at the Des Moines Farmers Market, where we were both vendors. In time, Mike and Jan Miller were using our berries to create the first ice cream featuring organic aronia berries. This is a delicious story to share and we’re doing this tour to highlight achievements like this,” Pittz said while enjoying a spoonful of fresh aronia berry ice cream.

Sawmill Hollow Family Farm also represents a small business success story. Last year, the farm business was recognized not only as a Renew Rural Iowa “Business of the Month,” but also as a top 51 company shaping the natural and organic industry – the only family farm or rural business to make the list.

In Sioux City, Pittz celebrated the new partnership between a local small business and his own family farm. Sawmill Hollow joined Jumpy Monkey Coffee and Opportunities Unlimited, a non-profit that employs individuals with mental and physical disabilities, to produce the world’s first aronia berry coffee. Pittz planted an aronia berry bush and packed coffee with employees to commemorate their pioneering product.

From the Missouri River to the Mississippi, each planting location shares a story and exemplifies this Iowan exchange. In central Iowa, the bushes now stand at the Winterset Public Library, just down the road from the world-renowned bridges of Madison County. In the East, the urban Cedar Rapids Newbo City Market and the rural Tipton farmers’ market now house the plants, adding to marketplaces of products and ideas.

Sawmill Hollow also hosts the North American Aronia Berry Festival, which features 30 Loess Hills artisans and small businesses. In many ways, the tour acts as an extension of the event, celebrating Iowa stories from across the state and making it a natural fit for programming from Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative. This year’s event will take place Sept. 21 to 22 at Sawmill Hollow Family Farm. From the fork of a dirt and gravel road, their first field day grew from 35 attendees into an end-of-summer blowout that attracted 4,000 visitors last year. This year’s festival will also feature 99 collages to represent every stop on the tour, promoting each county, and encouraging festival attendees to visit great attractions across the state.

The aronia berry, native to North America, is a dark pigmented fruit that contains the highest antioxidant content of any food in the world, triple the antioxidant content of a blueberry and double that of the imported Brazilian acai berry (Source USDA).