Food

A Sea of Red

Omar Tomlinson

Thursday, October 18, 2012    

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The idyllic, rural lands of Wareham, Massachusetts are a slice of true Americana. It’s not much of a stretch imagining a Rockwellian painting that captures the slow-paced, quiet beauty of men atop water wheels traversing cranberry bogs dotted with the floating bright-red fruits.

Located just a little over an hour outside Boston, Wareham is cranberry country. Over a thousand acres of sprawling land are dedicated to the production of the little red fruit that is a huge moneymaker for Ocean Spray and its conglomerate partner PepsiCo.

Up at the crack of daylight on a Saturday, we’re bused along with our Trinidadian, Guatemalan, Mexican, and Colombian media counterparts to a Wareham cranberry farm for a fuller appreciation of the fruit’s origins and its harvesting techniques.

On a guided tour at a bog (ahead of the Cranberry Harvest Festival), Thursday F o o d quickly learns there are two kinds of harvest — dry and wet. We are taken with the more visually arresting of the two — the water-soaked one wherein the bogs where the cranberries grow on vines are flooded with water.

A man-powered water wheel, with an egg-beater-like oscillating bottom goes skimming over the water and, in the process, dislodges the fruits from their vines. We learn that some maple swamp bogs are positively ancient and even date back to the 19th century.

The floating berries are then corralled and, by way of suction, taken from the water into a trasher where they are sprayed with water nozzles, and the leaves and chafes removed, and moved into a loading truck that takes the berries to the Ocean Spray receiving plant.

Richard Blair, a cranberry bog service provider, explains that after heading to the plant, the fruits undergo more cleaning before being boxed for freezer plants or wherever they are heading in North America or the world.

“I love my job,” Blair, who has worked on cranberry farms for 25 years, shares, “It’s been great raising my family on all this open land and wildlife and fishing; it’s a great place.”

FACTOIDS

• Cranberries are the number one food crop in Massachusetts, having a crop value of $50 million.

• The cranberry industry provides an estimated 5,500 jobs in Massachusetts.

• The industry contributes more than $200 million to the Massachusetts economy.

• Nearly 25 per cent of North America’s cranberry supply is produced by over 400 growers in Massachusetts.

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