by Steve Peterson
Dordt College students visited John and Mary Lucken’s farm to learn about alternative agriculture on a hot late Summer day.
The Luckens told the Sioux Center college’s students about the uniqueness of their farm site, just off Iowa Highway 12 south of Akron, and how it is home to some 2,100 Aronia berry bushes.
Students and a guest had a chance to taste a few frozen aronia verries from the last good crop.
“The aronia berry has four times the antioxidant of a blueberry,” said John Lucken.
The Luckens’ Bluebird Springs Orchards has a variety of apples, including Whitney Crab, Honey Crisp, McIntosh, Wolf River, Jonathan, Sweet Sixteen, Zestar, Wealthy, Haralson and Golden Delicious, plus Meteor and Montmorency cherry trees and Viking aronia berries.
On their west plot, the Luckens began by planting 88 aronia berry plants in 2009 and more since. One group of aronia berries is using buckets for propagation.
“We plant them four to six feet apart. It’s a turf grass. They will grow six feet tall and bush out three to four feet in diameter,” said John Lucken. “You pick them by hand or there is a blueberry picker and an invention from Poland called a Jonah 3.”
Mary Lucken pointed out the aronias are good for making jams, apple sauce and wine.
Dordt College Professor Rob DeHaan’s class, which also visited Tony Heistercamp’s orchard on Aug. 30, learned the Luckens’ site has never been plowed and is fed by a rich water spring system, that was helped out in this drought with sprinklers.
“This is the start of the Loess Hills. The only other place where this type of soil is found is in China,” said John Lucken, a geologist by profession.
“The aronia berries are very low maintenance. They don’t like shade; they like sun. They were native to the northeastern United States,” said Mary Lucken.
The oldest bushes of aronia berries on the Lucken farm are in their fourth Summer, and 200 pounds of berries have been harvested.
The Dordt students asked about the berries’ marketability.
“We have been convincing our friends that aronia berries are good for you. We sell them for $10 a pound. We have been in talks with aronia berry farmers in Cherokee, Merrill and Sioux City, and the Sioux City brothers hope to make it for their retirement. They’re a four-season product and I don’t think there is a way to oversaturate the market,” said John Lucken.