32 ARONIA promising

of the variety Viking and 800 of Autumn Magic. The plants came in one-gallon pots, and were planted in the farm’s sandy, irrigated soil last July. This year, they added 400 to 500 plants of McKenzie, Elliott and Galicjanka. They think McKenzie is the most suitable for the Okanagan climate. Aronia is also insect, disease and drought-resistant, an important consideration given climate change predictions. It’s astringent, so birds avoid it, a huge challenge Okanagan haskap growers face. They net their crops at considerable expense. “This isn’t about lifestyle.

Everything has to be profitable. So, although the property came with the grapes, and we want aronia, we’ve also introduced garlic,” says Michael. They’ve grown 5,000 bulbs into 50,000 plants of different varieties. In October, they’ll plant 150,000 cloves of garlic, with varieties including Red Russian, Majestic, Persian Star and super-sized elephant garlic. While not yet certified organic, they’re moving the farm towards certification. Speaking of numbers,

Michael is all about running highly successful businesses where cash is king. He says newer farm businesses or farms looking for a new crop must have a business plan with quick, near-term cash flow. Aronia and garlic were

chosen for Avoca after extensive research determined they would be complementary, having

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similar nutrient needs, soil and irrigation requirements. Garlic sales will provide revenue until the aronia comes onstream. They feel fortunate to have

funds from prior businesses support their agricultural venture when they know getting through the first years can be a real challenge for farmers. “Jane comes up with the ideas and I’m the one who figures out a way to implement [them],” says Michael. She loves reading, research and learning. He’s more into spreadsheets and building. To reduce overhead of labour costs, Michael combined two machines to create a plastic plant pot- filling machine. This year, they’ll try growing garlic in pots to avoid the three-year crop rotation cycle. With 36,000 pots in the yard and more on order, they plan to make garlic-growing portable. “We can actually take the plants and sell them. Michael is originally from Ireland where everyone grows things on their patios,” explains Jane. “No one has land but everyone has gardens so that’s when we realized that maybe this is what we should look at.”

Their business plan also

envisions contracting others within the Agricultural Land Reserve who want to grow something to gain tax exemption but want less work. Garlic in pots is a portable option that could fill a niche.


Jane Johnston holds a flat planted with arnoia seeds. The Johnston’s converted their home’s sunroom to a greenhouse to experiment with growing aronia from seed from Ukraine. MYRNA STARK LEADER PHOTO

For now, their garlic will be sold at the farm gate and the BC Tree Fruits store in Kelowna. BC Tree Fruits has also approached them to sell the aronia, which will be sold fresh in two-pound clamshells as well as in powdered form. Seedlings will be sold to others within BC. A potential market also exists in Ontario and Quebec, where they claim there's a waiting list for the plants. A one-year-old plant sells for about $10 to $12. “Part of our success in growing seedlings will be

helping to ensure that those that buy our plants are successful because if they’re not successful, we’re not,” says Michael. To that end, they are spearheading a new non- profit Western Canadian Aronia Association with a new website to share information about the plants and crop viability. Now in their 50s, and

having had a fair share of health concerns, they’re enjoying their new life and say farming is making them healthier than ever.


Others see same

benefits Pim and Mary-Ann

van Oeveren of Tasty Acres in Salmon Arm have been growing aronia at their certified organic nursery for about five years. With approximately 600 to 700 plants, Mary- Ann says the berry is an up-and-coming crop that goes well with the other unique fruits they sell, like figs and goji berries. Like the Johnstons,

Mary-Ann did her research to discover the berry’s health benefits. “I was surprised to

learn how healthy they were, so they’re kind of my pet project,” she says.

They’re now

propagating the plants but their originals came from the US.

“I think it is the berry of the future,” she says. She says goji berries

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are hard to grow and harvest whereas aronia’s health properties and easy maintenance make them an easy sell. People quickly purchase them for personal use. She’s found mixing them with other berries to add a bit of sweetness for fresh eating is the key. However, drying the fruit makes the berries easier to use.

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