B.T. Aronia Farm
A few years ago, Susan Handelsman wanted to find a way to make her land productive but in a way that didn’t violate the natural beauty or character of the land. Her property, which is just south of Woodstock, is a beautiful natural area filled with native trees, wildflowers and wildlife habitats. Her first thoughts were to grow berries and after talking to Rich at Foxwillows Pine Nursery in Woodstock, she was introduced to the idea of the Aronia Berry. After doing research, she decided that aronia berries would be a good fit for her land and in 2013 she began planting. Susan was attracted to the aronia berry bush as it is a hardy plant that is easy to grow and is very drought resistant. For Susan the biggest positive is that the edible berries are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients.
Susan’s dear friends the Visconti’s helped establish initial plantings, and Mr. Visconti has managed and tended the bushes ever since. Susan and Mr. V. put the first aronia berry harvest into a batch of home brewed wine. Mister Visconti’s Sicilian heritage has proven valuable to the winemaking, as recipients of free bottles have expressed delight with the hearty tasting aronia red.
Through Foxwillows Pine Nursery, Susan was introduced to Tu Bloom, a gardener famous in the botanical world. Tu, who is a University of Illinois Extension Cook County Master Gardener, partnered with Susan to advance the aronia project.
After three years the bushes have good fruit production: more berries than needed for winemaking. With the many health benefits of aronia berries, Susan and Tu decided they would bring this superfruit to the public and began selling the raw, unprocessed berries at the Woodstock Farmers Market.
The natural beauty of B.T. Aronia Farm is not only breathtaking but industrious. Hives in the trees mean there are plenty of yellowjackets around which are a natural pesticide since they eat the aphids which can attack young aronia berry bushes. Milkweed and native plants in the area as well as a neighboring orchard help with the pollinators. B.T. Aronia Farm tries not to spray their plants but a little is sometimes needed early on to keep aphids from attacking the plant. Once the fruit sets they do not spray at all. Harvest season is late August through September when the sugar content of the berries is at optimal level. The bushes can grow to be 8-10 feet tall, but they are pruned for harvesting and increased berry production.
Susan and Mr. V pick a little at a time to ensure they are bringing the freshest berries to the market. The berries have been grown for years in Poland and are now coming into the public eye for their many health benefits. Aronia berries are structurally similar to blueberries but have the tartness of a raw cranberry. The berries have ten times the amount of antioxidants in grapes and can be eaten raw but are most often used in baked goods, wine, smoothies, juicing, jams, ice cream and tea. Susan and Tu are passionate about bringing awareness of the aronia berry to the public and have developed the information site http://www.powerfulberry.com/home.
B.T. Aronia Farm will be at the Tuesday and Saturday markets through September.