BLANCHARDVILLE — Aronia berries may not be a widely known fruit yet, but Kim and Roberta Barham of Barham Gardens hope ongoing education about the berry’s health benefits will boost market interest.
“I love this fruit,” Roberta said. “The more I learn about it, the more excited I am about aronia. If not for that, I may have been discouraged long ago.”
The first aronia berry liquer producer in the U.S., Barham Gardens began growing aronia berries in 2009, but that was not the couple’s first venture into the agriculture industry. In 2004, the couple worked as professional cut flower growers. As with many ventures, their mission has changed over the years, from cutting flowers to maintaining Aronia berries and designing and moving into a more than 4,000-square-foot cordwood masonry house.
“One of the most interesting aronia facts is that the plant looks like a blueberry but is actually a member of the apple, Rosaceae family,” Roberta said.
Indigenous to North America and available for purchase in season from late-August through September, aronia is known for a variety of health benefits, including the reduction of inflammation, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol; aiding in digestion, kidney and urinary tract health; and nourishing of the brain. The berry contains a variety of vitamins, including vitamins C, E B2, B6 and folic acid and has been used widely throughout European nations for its health benefits.
The Barhams are working on a rezoning application that will allow their farm to host educational workshops and tours for people interested in learning more about aronia. The farm also offers U-picks and fresh berries and is the first known aronia liqueur producer in the U.S.
“I became interested in aronia in 2008 when I tasted a cranberry juice that seemed to have a taste more robust, tart and exciting than plain cranberry,” Roberta said. “Only a couple of months later, an invitation to an aronia information field day at Carandale Farm was posted in the Dane County Farmers’ Market newsletter.”
The educational seminar taught the Barhams that aronia was not only a native perennial but that it also could tolerate a wide variety of soil types and sunlight and moisture conditions and fit well into a permaculture philosophy.
At that point, the Barhams ordered 1,000 plants, and in 2009, the first aronia berry roots were planted on their farm. Berries were first harvested in 2012.
When owning a farm, there are always struggles. One of Barhams’ struggles has been the weather: “One year, there were multiple periods of extended frost in late-May that weakened stems, causing fruit to drop. Another year, dry weather during flowering stage allowed for pollination, but some of the plants aborted the fruit during formation,” Roberta said.
Another struggle with growing a berry crop is trying to prevent the spotted winged Drosophila from appearing in the plants. SWD is the only bug that can penetrate high-quality fruit skins and deposit eggs, creating larvae within the berry. To prevent this pest, Barham Gardens applies organic insecticides and mows around the trees.
Roberta has served on the board for the Midwest Aronia Association and spearheaded the publication of a book containing 90 recipes featuring aronia berries. The Midwest Aronia Association’s website features information about planting and harvesting and helps answer other questions potential growers may have.
Barham Gardens has aronia berry and cherry liqueurs made using their berries. Featuring more than 50 percent Wisconsin ingredients, including certified organic aronia juice, Door County cherries and Mount Horeb honey, Aronia Cherry Liqueur is available in markets in and around Dane County. The company continues to grow, and those who would like aronia berry and cherry liqueurs distributed in stores near them are asked to contact that store and let Barham Gardens know.
Aronia Cherry Liqueur is available through Yahara Bay Distillers, Woodman’s West, Woodman’s Sun Prairie, Steven’s Junction Road, Willy Street North, Regent Street Coop, Hy-Vee in Fitchburg, Mahan’s in Oregon and Emberson’s Market in Blanchardville. For wholesale purchases, visit https://frankbeverage group.com/ and enter product code “653375” or call 608-836-6000.