August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Rachel Joy

These days, countless products claim to slow the process of aging and avert health concerns. What if the solution was as simple as a little black berry? Kurt and Tina Geschwender think that may just be the case.

The Geschwenders’ introduction to this wonder fruit came by way of chance. In 2010, Kurt was at a neighborhood picnic where his friend, chiropractor Bill Caster, introduced him to a cancer survivor who told him about the health benefits of aronia berries. Kurt’s interest was piqued, and he decided to do his own research on the fruit (which is also known as a chokeberry).

Although neither Kurt nor Tina ever suffered from cancer, they have lost multiple loved ones to the disease and live a health-conscious lifestyle. As they further researched aronia berries, they became convinced that they had discovered an untapped market with incredible healing potential.

Studies claim aronia berries improve circulation, balance blood pressure, and assist in decreasing inflammation in the body. Even more research has come through recently, but there remains a lot to be learned about the positive effects of this unique berry.

Geschwenders1The Geschwenders decided to take the leap into berry farming. They knew they could use land on their property to cultivate bushes. Five years and 1,500 bushes later, they can barely keep up with the demand for their product.

Outside of their agricultural startup, the Geschwenders  run a successful real estate company. With such busy lives, Kurt jokes that the berries made him question his sanity in the beginning. After all, the crops required him to wake at the crack of dawn to water each row by hand.

Still, Tina and Kurt are clearly passionate about educating the public and providing something that helps members of their community take charge of their health. Tina says she welcomes public inquiries about the berries by phone at 402-451-5300.

This year, the Geschwenders experimented with a new berry-picking strategy. The regulars at the Florence Mill Farmer’s Market set up a booth to collect names and contact information from folks interested in picking berries.

Berry ripening varies by year, typically occurring between late-July and mid-August. When the fruit was ripe, they notified their contact list that the “you-pick” season had begun. They charged $2.50 per pound and donated 50 cents from each pound to the Florence Mill Farmer’s Market.

Aronia berries have officially caught on as one of America’s favorite new superfoods, and the Midwest has become the hub for this booming industry. The North America Aronia Cooperative was formed in Omaha in early 2014 and includes 10 surrounding states. Some of the nation’s largest distributors also grow in the area.

Native to North America, the berries thrive in the Midwest. Once on the vine, it takes three weeks for them to ripen. Once ripe, they roll off the vines easily.

On their own, the berries taste tart yet bittersweet. It’s no wonder; these tiny berries have the highest recorded antioxidant level of any fruit. Red wine drinkers may appreciate their sharp quality, but anyone can enjoy the many recipes that include aronia berries.

Tina says she does not eat them on their own but uses them as a versatile ingredient. She turns to cookbooks, and her own experiments, to discover new ways of working them into her diet.

“Any baking I do, I use aronia berries. They mix really well with other fruit.” The recommended daily dose is 15 to 20 berries, but Tina says she will add more to her morning smoothie, “because if a little is good, a lot is better.”

Tina also lets Florence Mill market-goers sample her signature strawberry pecan aronia bread, a recipe she perfected over a two-year period. She swears she will never share the recipe: “It just took too long to get it right!”

The bread itself is extraordinarily moist, and dense without being heavy. It’s sweet, and the berries can clearly be noted, but the pecans and cinnamon cut through any tanginess, creating a more subtle, wholesome profile of flavors. Tina takes orders for the bread at the market, but her stock is limited. She light-heartedly laments that friends and family keep her busy with orders year-round.

America is still getting to know this super berry, but there is good reason to give it a try. The Geschwenders would be thrilled to share what they know, and may even dish out a new recipe or two, such as this one:

Tina’s Aronia Berry Breakfast Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup skim milk

1 banana

8 ounces (or one 8-ounce container) of cherry or blueberry Greek yogurt

1 cup of ice

15 to 20 aronia berries

Directions:

Blend all ingredients for one minute. Serve immediately in tall glasses.

Visit aroniacoop.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha

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