From Johnny Appleseed to Andrew Pittz, the Heartland tradition of sharing new agricultural staples has grown into the 21st century.
The sixth generation Iowa family farmer is travelling across all 99 counties planting aronia berry bushes to celebrate the burgeoning industry.
Until Sawmill Hollow reintroduced nearly two decades ago, no farm in North America grew the then-endangered crop commercially.
Accepting the aronia berry from Andrew Pittz are Estherville city administrator Penny Clayton; community development director Barb Mack and parks and recreation secretary Sara Montandon.
Today, over 200 farm families compose the Sawmill Hollow "Farm Team." The "Healthy Family, Farms, & Communities" 99 county tour planting locations help tell the story of Iowa small business, agriculture, and community, celebrating our shared successes.
According to Sawmill Hollow "Farmer-in-Chief" Andrew Pittz, "Whether you're an Iowan business, library, or a Chamber of Commerce, it's about celebrating our shared successes and Iowa neighborliness. We invest in our communities every day -- growing our shared exchange -- Rural and urban, big and small, conventional and organic, we're all working together to grow Iowa."
From the Missouri River to the Mississippi, each planting location shares a story and exemplifies this Iowan exchange. In Sioux City, Sawmill Hollow joined Jumpy Monkey and Opportunities Unlimited, a non-profit that employs individuals with mental and physical disabilities, to plant a bush and pack the world's first aronia berry coffee. In central Iowa, the bushes now stand at the Winterset Public Library, just down the road from the world-renowned bridges of Madison County. In the east, the urban Cedar Rapids Newbo City Market and the rural Tipton farmers' market now house the plants, adding to marketplaces of products and ideas.
In Estherville, Parks and Recreation secretary Sara Montandon, city administrator Penny Clayton, and community development director Barb Mack joined Pittz to plant an aronia berry bush at Iowa Lakes Community College. Pittz and the others engaged in the Iowan exchange by trading stories of popular attractions.
"Sweet Corn Days the first weekend in August," Mack, Montandon, and Clayton said in unison. Sweet corn days - which features a duck derby, 6,000 free ears of corn, and the beloved street dance piqued Pittz's interest.
"You can bet we'll be back in Estherville the first weekend in August as long as the berries aren't ripe yet," Pittz said.
As the tour rolls across the state, culinary events show the versatility of the Iowa "Superfood" at hometown shops and Hy-Vee grocery stores -- the first retailer to carry Sawmill Hollow's aronia berry.
Already, Sawmill Hollow Family Farm represents a rural success story. Last year the farm business was recognized not only as a Renew Rural Iowa "Business of the Month" but also as a top 51 company shaping the natural and organic industry - the only family farm or rural business to make the list.
Iowa Governor Branstad declared September "Aronia Berry Month" to demonstrate the importance of the new industry to the state's communities. On the tour, Governor Branstad offered his support, saying "The Iowa Healthiest State Initiative sets out to make our state the healthiest in the nation by 2016. In the last year we have moved from the top 20 to the top 10 with farmers like Andrew Pittz of Sawmill Hollow, the aronia berry, and these great public-private partnerships." Atlantic, Iowa-based regional Rural Development Director Theresa Jordison echoed the themes of the tour, calling Andrew Pittz a "pioneer in creating opportunity."
Sawmill Hollow also hosts the North American Aronia Berry Festival, which features 30 Loess Hills artisans and small businesses. In many ways the tour acts as an extension of the event, celebrating Iowa stories from across the state and making it a natural fit for programming from Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative. This year's event will take place September 21- 22 at Sawmill Hollow Family Farm. From the fork of a dirt and gravel road, their first field day grew from 35 attendees into an end-of-summer blowout that attracted 4,000 visitors last year. This year's festival will also house 99 collages to represent every stop on the tour, promoting each county, and encouraging festival attendees to visit great attractions across the state.
The aronia berry, native to North America, is a dark pigmented fruit that contains the highest antioxidant content of any food in the world, tripling the content of a blueberry and doubling the imported Brazilian acai berry (Source USDA).