A tasty solution ...

Dustin Kelly - Autumn Berry InspiredOK, so I’m feeling a bit stressed that we’ve not yet used a lot of the video we shot over the past several weeks – we still have stuff from the Flower Show, and haven’t even gotten into the interviews we did at the Good Food Fest. This is actually, something of a do-over for an interview that Ed shot on his tablet at the latter, which somehow ended up with no audio. However, the contact he made with Dustin Kelly of Autumn Berry Inspired ended up with their participating in the Seed Chicago launch party that we did down at the Chicago Innovation Exchange earlier this week.

As Mr. Kelly notes in the video – the “Autumn Berry” (Elaeagnus umbellate) is a somewhat controversial plant. Native to Asia, it’s recognized as an invasive species, and has even been called “a noxious invasive weed” and been subject to eradication efforts in many areas. However, the plant features both a very tasty fruit (which it produces in large quantities), and nitrogen-fixing root system, so it has its fans as well. The problem is that it’s often too successful, with birds eating the fruit and spreading the seeds widely, and the plant’s hardiness (and ability to improve poor soil) allowing for it to get established where other (native) plants may be struggling. Here’s a bit about the Autumn Berry’s benefits from the site:

In a dense grove, the autumn olive trees have been enriching the soil for many years. With nitrogen fixing roots down below and fruit, leaves, and sticks from above, poor, depleted soils can become incredibly fertile over time. This is the reason the autumn olive was brought to the United States and promoted for so many decades: It restores poor, disturbed soil, as with land that has been moved for mining, highways, construction, and agriculture.

Kelly’s company is working towards thinning out the “groves” (the plant tends to develop dense areas of growth) into more manageable “orchards”, where the berries can be harvested before the birds are able to get to them. They also have a program for planting a native species for every Autumn Berry tree that’s removed, creating more diverse ecological niches. Here’s what he had to say the other evening:

At present, the company is only producing a line of jams and “fruit leather” based on the berry, along with a shelf-stable puree product that allows other groups to manufacture Autumn Berry based products. When I asked about various other options, Mr. Kelly seemed open to the possibilities, but they’re taking a conservative path on product development, only adding on extensions as it’s prudent given the “wild harvest” nature of the raw material at this point.

I was joking that they should hook up with some of the people who are trying to make something useful out of another invasive species – the Asian Carp – as a berried fish steak would sort of kill two “invaders” in one package!

Anyway, it turns out that this plant is pretty much everywhere, so Autumn Berry Inspired certainly has a lot of growth potential … and it’s great to see a company providing a solution to a problem like this that’s both ecologically-friendly, and, frankly, tasty.

P.S.: I can hardly do a post about the Seed Chicago party without encouraging you to go check out the Kickstarter programs announced there: http://kickstarter.com/seedchicago


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