Eastern Iowa Farmer Grows Rare Berry Crop

By Jill Kasparie, KCRG-TV9

MOUNT VERNON, Iowa — An Eastern Iowa farmer is working the land to bring about an unusual crop.

Andy Luegger grows Elderberries on his farm west of the city.

Agriculture Experts at the Iowa State University Extension Office say growing the berries on a commercial scale is very rare in the state, but it’s becoming a growing trend in other Midwestern states.

Now is the time of year when the Luegger’s Elderberry Farm gets more attention. The white flowers are in full bloom.

“On a warm, sunny day the smell is going to be almost like honey ... We’ve seen people actually slowing down on the road and trying to peak through this hole,” Luegger said.

Luegger said he got the idea to grow Elderberries during a flu season a few years ago as he thought back on growing up in Europe.

Some researchers say the berries have health benefits.

“I remember I was taking this Elderberry syrup as a child, so then my wife and I investigated if you could grow these here,” said

Now, the couple is on their third year of producing the Elderberries. While it’s been a challenge, they expect a good crop this year.

“You can see how these are just ripening now,” Luegger said as he showed off the tiny green berries.

In late summer, the berries turn dark purple. That’s when they are ready for harvest.

The tart berries are often used in juices, jams or wine. Luegger has already mixed up a juice recipe and asked the neighbors for help.

“When the little kids got excited about the taste, we knew we had it made,” Luegger said.

The farmer believes his plants will produce about 4,000 pounds of Elderberries this summer, and he plans to sell much of that crop to winemakers.

Looking back on all the work, the first-time farmer said farming is something he has always wanted to do.

“It was always a dream of mine, ever since I was a kid,” Luegger said.

Luegger said he’s working with other Elderberry farmers in the Midwest to form a co-op. That gives them more opportunities to sell their product to winemakers and other companies who use the berries for its health benefits. He’s also working to cultivate another berry called Aronia, which agriculture experts say is more-widely grown in Iowa.

l Comments: 319-398-8268; jill.kasparie@kcrg.com

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