Friday my housemates and I visited a cranberry bog in Carver, Mass., south of Boston. This farm, Fresh Meadows Farm is one of the only certified organic cranberry farms in the commonwealth.
The farm manager Dom, is a third generation cranberry farmer. His grandfather immigrated to Massachusetts from the island of Fogo in the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Senegal, Africa.
|Dom and his grandson. Picture from|
freshmeadowscranberries.com (last fall)
Dom was extremely accommodating. Despite a slight mis-communication between the folks who organized our trip and Dom which made him think we weren't coming, he still happily gave us the tour anyway. He talked extensively about the economics of the cranberry market, his organic cranberries, and his conventionally grown berries. I found all that information fascinating and wish to enlighten you all on the cranberry market.
Cranberry farmers like Dom either sell their berries on the commodity market where buyers control the price, or on the cooperative market where shareholders, and often farmers themselves have more control over the price. Dom sells to Ocean Spray and to the commodity market. He said Ocean Spray pays better. I've made it a goal to only buy Ocean Spray cranberries rather than the store brand to support Dom with my purchase.
Wet vs Dry Harvesting
As you have probably seen on the Ocean Spray commercials cranberries are typically harvested with water. The perennial shrubs (flowering each year) are grown from cuttings in a bog or swamp. During the winter the bogs are flooded to protect the plants from the harsh dry winter winds; even though the water will usually freeze it keeps the plants moist and alive until spring. In the spring the fields are drained for the plants to begin growth. The bogs will typically be flooded several times during the growning season before they fruit to control pests. They usually flower in April and the flower buds are long and slender representing a crane --thus its name is from "Crane"-berry.
After the flowers are pollinated and the fruits are ready by late October through November the berries are harvested. Originally all cranberries were dry harvested, picked by hand or with a comb-like scoop and then sorted, stored or processed, and then sold. In the mid 20th century wet harvesting became popular which is flooding the fields, the berries float to the top, are collected, and then sent for processing. The wet-harvest can bruise or soften the berries compromising their shelf life and they require immediate processing for storage. Typically wet-harvested cranberries go into juices, sauces, or are dried as crasins, and dry harvested berries are sold as whole cranberries in grocery stores. In the last decade the wet-dry harvesting method has come into play which is a wet harvest followed by an immediate drying in huge warehouses, these can also be sold as whole cranberries.
More information at http://freshmeadowscranberries.com/about-fresh-meadows-farm/
In order to have the organic label on one of his bogs, Dom has to dry harvest using the old fashoned machine which is like a giant comb.
To be certified USDA organic, Dom is not allowed to use any synthetic pesticides or fertilizer on his organic fields. This requires more care, and often results in more crop lost to pests. This is one reason organic cranberries cost a little more. In order to afford to grow organic berries he must also grow conventional in other fields he owns to sustain the income. The majority of Organic cranberries are grown in newly-developed bogs in Canada where they have no natural pests yet.
I asked Dom what is his spiritual connection to food. He said it was about his connection to his family. He does this because he is closer to his parents and grandparents by following in their footsteps. Dom sort of uses the older equipment and the organic method as a hobby because he loves it so much.
I really enjoyed that visit and listening to Dom. I will always think of him when I buy Cranberries. And I will eat more of them raw, after about five of them you get used to the tart flavor.
This Thanksgiving think of farmers like Dom who are honoring their families by connecting with the earth and growing us delicious cranberries. Maybe go for a visit if you're in New England. Happy Eating!
Thanks Dom, you've been on my mind for a year.