HOMESTEAD, Iowa - Mark Retter, head of Proverbs Ministries, said on Monday that the downfall of his 12-acre aronia berry crop started with an infestation of Japanese beetles earlier this year.
"We had to organically treat them, so it took a while to whoop the beetles, and then the drought came, and the berries shriveled up like raisins," Retter explained.
The 40 or so pounds in his freezer is about all that's left, save for what he already sold off to a local HyVee, about 350 pounds. He had hoped to package about 10,000 pounds into pint containers and sell all of it to HyVee for about $40,000 dollars, but he ended up with far less.
"I think 280 dollars," Retter said. "If I was a stock broker, I'd say ah, tomorrow is another day, but it's not until next year until the next crop comes up."
Retter's goal was to use some of the profit to purchase an irrigation system to keep the plants watered, but he said lack of rain isn't the only reason his crop failed. He admits some of the fault, because he wanted to wait to harvest with a machine made for picking blueberries.
"We were trying to stretch it out, because the company who makes the machines was going to be here on [September] 21st," Ritter told us. "My calling is to work with alcoholics and drug addicts. We're learning the aronia business."
Retter stopped serving men with alcohol and drug problems about a year ago, and now hosts a small group of people without homes. He wants his crop - and his ministry - to keep growing, and become self-sustaining.
"Eventually we'll have 36 men on the property, and employ between 11 and 17 people," Retter said.