Sunny Lane Farms in Eureka prides itself on diversity

EUREKA, Ill. - There's a lot of interest in super foods these days. Options like Kale and Chia seeds are all the rage right now. But, it might surprise you to learn the fruit with the highest anti-oxidant level in the country, is being grown right here in central Illinois. A local farmer is growing Aronia berries and so much more.

"Wow, look at this one. That's so big. I'd put that as a good one." Teresa Brockman explains.

There's lots to see on Brockman's fruit farm. There's apples of course.

"This is called Jonafree. It's got a real nice texture. It's real crunchy and juicy. It's got quite a bit of tartness which I like." Brockman says.

Pears, too, like one called Turnbull.

"They're tart and sweet at the same time."

But, really, there's a little bit of everything here. Because from the very beginning of the operation, diversity was always key.

"My idea was to grow everything I could grow in this climate zone." Brockman explains.

Unusual things like Asian pears, which are crunchy like apples or hardy kiwi fruit fresh from the vine.

There's plenty of room for animals, too.

"Grape leaves are one of their favorite things. The goats and the chickens are an integral part of a small diverse farm because they provide fertility for the plants. And then the bees are also important because fruit needs to be pollinated. Bees aren't the only pollinators. Wasps of all types. All of these insects pollinate." Brockman says.

Growing lots of different plants together mirrors nature, itself. But Brockman also says growing different kinds of the same plant helps protect against diseases and pests.

"And so by having a lot of different varieties, you have a greater likelihood that one or two or three of your varieties will do well, even in a bad year." Brockman explains.

But it was the allure of the Aronia berry that prompted Brockman to plant 1,200 bushes on two acres near Congerville.

"They're the highest anti-oxidant plant that we can grow in the continental U.S., about 3 ½ times higher than blueberries."

After the berries are harvested, washed and frozen, she puts them in a big press and squeezes out every last drop of juice. Though it's dark like grape juice, Aronia juice is not nearly as sweet.

"So I always tell them to sip it like wine, don't gulp it like Gatorade, sip it like win and it's really, really good." Brockman says.

But Brockman's experiment in growing so many Aronia bushes proved problematic. There was difficulty machine picking the crop and processing the berries out of state.

"I'm at the point where I'm kind of downsizing on the Aronia and transitioning to more of a diverse planting in this field." Brockman says.

And that means there will be more of her other favorites like the native pawpaw and the tiny sweet ground cherry. Yes, diversity makes good farming sense, but her customers at the market love it, too.

"It's really fun to have people come up to the stand and say what's that? And then they taste it and they're really excited. And so I really like new things.Yeah, diversity is the spice of life." Brockman explains.


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