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A different kind of berry

Palmers grow aronia berries near St. George

Aronia berries at the Gary and Denise Palmer farm grow in bunches on shrubs and are black in color. Denise Palmer holds a clump of aronia berries at Palmer Hill, just north of the Minnesota River Valley, several miles west of St. George.

Not long ago, Gary and Denise Palmer were thinking about what to grow on their farm near St. George. After talking to a friend, they opted for aronia berries, advertised as one of the most nutritionally-dense fruits on earth with many health benefits. The berries are sold fresh and frozen or made into juices, jams, teas, wine and baked into bread. The Palmers invite winemakers and other people to visit their farm on Sunday, Sept. 19 to pick berries and enter the 1st Annual Palmer Hill Wine Off in 2022.

The Palmers learned of an Iowa company called Sawmill Hollow Family Farm, the first commercial and organic aronia (ah-ROE-nee-ah) farm in the United States.

“We didn’t want to put grapes in. It seemed like everybody up and down the (Minnesota) river valley was putting grapes in,” Gary Palmer said. “We wanted to try something different and learned about aronia berries.”

The Palmers planted aronia, also known as chokeberries, which are resistant to drought, insects, pollution, and disease on several acres of land not far from the river valley bluff.

Considered cold hardy and heat tolerant, aronia plants grow well in orchard-type rows or as landscape elements, three to 12-feet high.

Denise Palmer holds a clump of aronia berries at Palmer Hill, just north of the Minnesota River Valley, several miles west of St. George.

Palmer said the plants are native to North America but became popular in Poland first.

“They’re slowly coming back to the United States,” said Denise Palmer. “The berries themselves are super tart. They don’t taste good, but they’re super healthy for you with high anti-oxidant levels.”

“The benefits are huge. You only need to eat a few a day. You don’t eat them (alone) for the taste, but for the benefits later on,” said Gary Palmer. “They can last a long time in a refrigerator.”

The Palmers have a cold press to process their three acres of berries on about 1,900 plants. They’ve grown berries for several years but haven’t sold them on a large scale yet. The Palmers’ berries are available in one-pound, plastic containers in the produce section at Hy-Vee and Cash Wise Foods stores in New Ulm.

“We’re waiting for the market to click,” Denise said.

Aronia berries at Palmer Hill, west of St. George grow quite thickly. The Palmers said they’re waiting for the aronia market to take off. Palmer Hill aronia berries are packaged in one-pound containers. They’re sold at Hy-Vee and Cash Wise Foods in New Ulm.

Gary said ax water, a commercial water beverage infused with aronio berries, is starting to take off. Founded in Fargo in 2017, the beverage packs aronia berry antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

“People freeze them and put them in their yogurt and smoothies,” Denise said.

You may find aronia berries growing in the wild. They look like blueberries and can be black or red, growing on shrubs in North America.

Native American tribes are known to use them to make tea and treat colds.

Aronia berries are said to contain a number of health benefits. One study of aronia berry extract showed it prevented colon cancer in rats and reduced breast cancer cell damage.

Aronia berries at Palmer Hill, west of St. George grow quite thickly. The Palmers said they’re waiting for the aronia market to take off. Palmer Hill aronia berries are packaged in one-pound containers. They’re sold at Hy-Vee and Cash Wise Foods in New Ulm.

Other studies with rats showed that aronia berries may be effective against insulin resistance, improve liver health and fight other diseases including arthritis, hypertension, inflammation, cardiovascular conditions and other infections.

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