berries crimson red. This is when farmers flood the fields to
facilitate the wet harvest, a process that largely replaced dry
picking in the late 1960s. Since cranberries have air pockets in
their core, once they’re separated from their vines they float,
making them easier to gather. Wet-harvested berries account
for 97 percent of the yield and are used for processed foods, including juices. ( The berries that produce white cranberry juice
are picked just before they turn red.) The remaining 3 percent
of the cranberry harvest is picked from pre-flooded fields; these
berries are sold fresh in the produce section.
The best test of a fresh cranberry is to see if it will bounce, an
experiment Conner invites 10-year-old Jackson Windsor-Starr
from Hermosa Beach, California, to demonstrate by dropping
a few berries on the floor of the shed. Ocean Spray uses a more
sophisticated bounce-board separator to divide the good fruit
from the spoiled.
Pine Barrens Native Fruits, like most of the cranberry growers in New Jersey, is a member of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. The farm sells about 98 percent of the 8 million pounds of
cranberries it harvests each year to Ocean Spray. New Jersey’s
cranberry industry once claimed more than 450 growers tending 14,000 acres of cranberry bogs. Today, it is down to fewer
than 20 growers farming 2,500 acres, according to Conner.
“Cranberry farming is hard to get into and hard to get out of,”
Conner says. “It’s difficult to get permits to create a bog. And
once you’re in it, it’s hard to find buyers because most people
don’t want to farm these days.”
Conner also describes the health benefits of the cranberry
(high in vitamin C, fiber and antibacterial agents) and the vari-
ous cranberry by-products ( juice, sauce, and what’s quickly
becoming the most popular product, sweetened dried cranber-
ries, or Craisins, introduced by Ocean Spray in 1993).
Finally, the group boards two buses and heads for the bogs.
Driving down a narrow dirt road, we are flanked by cranberry
bogs as far as the eye can see. We stop to watch a harvester with
a rotating water reel passing over the bog, pulling the berries
free from their vine tendrils. The berries float to the surface.
Five farmhands, who have been out since 7 AM, shuffle through
thigh-high, 50-degree water in their oversized, dun-colored
waders, using long wooden planks to corral the newly freed
cranberries. The berries are steered toward another machine
that pumps them into the back of a dump truck. Once full, the
truck takes its load of 5,000 pounds of berries to a preliminary
cleaning station, where a high-pressure water-jet system
washes the fruit and removes debris. The cleaned
berries are passed on to an elevator conveyor and
loaded onto a truck bound for the Ocean Spray
receiving station in Chatsworth, where they’ll be
further cleaned and processed.
The last stop of the three-hour tour is back at
Touring the bogs was a bucket-list item for Susan Jones of
Allentown, Pennsylvania, who was treated to the outing by her
daughter, Amy Rozell of Somers Point. “We got to see every part
of the operation, which was really fantastic,” said Jones. “They
were so enthusiastic and engaged. I have so much respect for
Christopher Reinert had wanted to see a cranberry bog since
he was a child. He and his girlfriend, Emily Schaible, traveled
from Northeast Philadelphia for their visit. “It was so beauti-
ful, and the people were so knowledgeable,” said Reinert. “I’d
recommend it to anyone.”
Kathy and Pete Holmes of Mount Laurel said it was a privi-
lege to visit the bogs. “I thought it was great that they opened up
the family farm to tourists,” said Kathy. “It makes you want to
support local farming.”
A BERRY GOOD TIME Visitors to Pine Barrens Native Fruits in Browns Mills view the cranberry harvest from a tour bus. Later, two agri-tourists
from Philadelphia, Emily Schaible and Christopher Reinert, hit the farm store for jams, salsa and other cranberry treats.
“Cranberry farming is hard to get
into and hard to get out of.” —Brenda Conner