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Native Iowa Crops as New Crops for Iowa Farmers: pawpaws and aronia berries

October 1, 2011

Locally grown Iowa pawpaws and aronia berries were featured at the Iowa City Farmers Market in September.  Levi’s Indigenous Fruit Enterprises- LIFE www.aronialife.com had the uncommon fruits on hand for market goers to sample and purchase. The pawpaws were from a regional field trial involving Iowa State University Extension to assess the viability of pawpaws as a new crop for Iowa.  Levi Lyle grows aronia and pawpaw on his farm near Keota.

“Pawpaws are a dessert fruit that has tropical flavors of mango and custard apple and nutritional density similar to fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges,” explained Lyle, who has made a business of promoting native Iowa fruits.  “Pawpaws have triple the vitamin C as apples,” says Lyle, “and aronia, a relative of apples, possesses the highest level of antioxidants of any known fruit in the world.”  Lyle says that both pawpaw and aronia have very few pests and disease.  He attributes their ecologically adapted status to the fact that both are native to Iowa and have undergone very little domestication.

Dr. Patrick O’Malley, ISU Commercial Horticulture Field Specialist, believes that both pawpaw and aronia may be viable fruit crops for Iowa.  O’Malley collects data on twenty eight cultivars of pawpaw at the site of a regional field trial to quantify which varieties grow well in Iowa’s climate.  O’Malley says an acre of pawpaw can produce more than 6,000 pounds of fruit.  Lyle has an acre of aronia bushes that in a few years will yield similar to pawpaw trees (about 6,000 pounds per acre).  At one dollar per pound, an estimated $6,000 gross profit per acre would make pawpaw or aronia a lucrative fruit crop.  Lyle commented, “We are still in the process of figuring out how to make these crops viable beyond seasonal farmers markets.” 

  According to O’Malley, “Perennial crops like pawpaw and aronia require little capital to maintain and greatly reduce soil erosion compared to conventional row crop farming.  Pawpaw and aronia are well adapted to southern Iowa’s climate and have very few pests.  O’Malley explains, “While browsing deer appear to be somewhat of a nuisance for aronia growers, they pose little threat to pawpaw, this is because the leaves and bark of pawpaw trees possess natural acetogenins that deter wildlife.” 

About growing aronia and pawpaw, Lyle says, “In addition to all the benefits to our health and environment, I like these two crops because they are harvested before its time to go to the field to pick corn.”  Lyle works on his family’s farm near Keota where he and his dad raise conventional corn and soybeans.  Lyle says that it’s a nice balance to have one acre of organic aronia and one acre of organic pawpaw to diversity their farm.

LIFE will have pawpaws and aronia berries available for purchase through the Iowa Valley Food Coop www.iowavalleyfood.com beginning in October.  “Both fruits freeze really well,” explains Lyle. “Frozen pawpaw keep their orange custard-like flesh which tastes like sherbet icecream.  For aronia, it’s handy to grab just a few frozen berries each morning for breakfast and add them into cereal or oatmeal.  A small amount is equal in antioxidants to a whole cup of blueberries or cranberries.”  You can learn more and find recipes for these locally grown fruits by visiting www.aronialife.com.

Article by Jason Grimm, Iowa Valley RC&D, Food System Planner

Iowa Crops: Aronia and Pawpaw