Mark Ballering has always been interested in nature and the environment. When he retired from being a coffee roaster, he purchased 270 acres of woodland and row crops north of Madison. He wanted to convert the row crop acreage into a family nature preserve, reversing a decades-long depletion of the soil that intensive row crop farming can cause.
To turn the row crop acreage back into native prairie, Ballering chose a perennial shrub. It would provide permanent soil coverage, and still be usefulin food production. He says he became “jazzed up” about the flavor of the black currant, he loved the unique taste, and wanted to share it.
But what to do with the unfamiliar fruit was another challenge. After testing wine, beer, and even ice cream topping, he settled on making preserves from the fruit. Black Currant preserves are abundant with fruit, have very little sugar, and no pectin or preservatives.
But the obstacle with marketing black currant preserves is no one knew how it tastes. While a standard product in Europe where he first experienced the distinctive, piquant flavor, it’s hardly recognized in the United States. Ballering pointed out that black currant is not the preserves you put on your morning peanut butter and toast.
“It has many uses, it’s a perfect accompaniment for cheese on a charcuterie board, a sauce over meats and especially salmon or a topping on a rich dessert, but some on a buttery scone or artisanal bread is very good as well,” he laughed.
Ballering was certain the unique taste would appeal to the growing number of home cooks and restaurant chefs looking to add new flavor profiles to their dishes. With the results of a 2019 harvest in jars, he planned to set out in 2020 to restaurants, farmers markets, and festivals across southern Wisconsin and offer tastings.
When COVID-19 restrictions put a stop to all those plans, Ballering found Market Wagon. “As I researched Market Wagon and the products they offered, I knew their customers would have a discerning taste and would appreciate Nature Keepers Preserves.”
Using his years of experience as a coffee roaster, Ballering developed a marketing plan which would provide Market Wagon customers the opportunity to “taste” both Nature Keepers products; Black Currant Original and Black Currant Orange Preserves.
Ballering offered a 1 oz jar of preserves for a very nominal price and added a $1.00 off coupon on a future purchase of either 10-ounce jar, and sales began.
As more Market Wagon customers appreciate Nature Keepers Original and Orange Preserves, the black currant prairie acreage will grow on his nature preserve. Ballering hopes that as these customers enjoy the unique black currant flavor, they will also taste a bit of the July sun and sense Wisconsin prairie flowers swaying in the wind.