I wrote this post back in 2010 in the Japanese side of my blog in a bilingual format. I separated the English text, as it had made the post twice as long and look busy. Recently I contributed an article about Michigan cranberries to the local ethnic Japanese newspaper. The article will be in the November issue. As my article contains the URL of my blog, I expect some people will visit my blog. I wanted to make my posts look better so the visitors will not be turned off.
You probably can’t imagine how exotic cranberries are for Japanese like me. Until I moved to the U.S. in my mid-20s, I never had cranberries in my entire life.
Not many people know that Michigan produces cranberries as well as blueberries. Both blueberries and cranberris grow only on sandy soil. This means they can grow in very limited areas in the U.S. It makes southeastern Michigan a special place.
October is time for cranberry harvesting.
On an October Saturday, I drove all the way to western Michigan from Southeast Michigan to see the cranberry harvest show at DeGrandchamp Farms in South Haven.
I found about this event when I went to the farm last August for blueberry U-Pick. The brochures in the farm’s gift shop mentioned the event and one of the cashers did a good sales pitch to me, “Come back on October for the show!”.
About 10 years ago, one of the November mornings close to Thanksgiving, I noticed an article in the local newspaper about cranberries grown in western Michigan. The article had a photo of somebody harvesting cranberries in a bog. It explained sandy soil in western Michigan is suited for cranberries and there is a farm growing cranberries in South Haven – this must have been DeGrandchamp Farms.
I had thought cranberries were grown only in the East Coast states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, so the article gave me a strong impression. Since then I had always wanted to go see the cranberry bogs in western Michigan, I guess. So my dream came true finally.
They had two hay wagons to transport tourists to and from the bogs. $5 per person for a roundtrip ($3 for a child). There was a good number of tourists. The wagons got filled quickly. Five-minute ride one way. They were running every 10 minutes.
When we arrived, I saw the cranberries corralled into one corner of the bog, being sucked up to the truck.
Cranberries being sucked up through the pipe.
A closer look – Yes! Cranberries are floating in the water.
Once sucked up, cranberries are loaded in the cargo (on the left) and carried to the processing center on the back of the truck.
Beautiful pinkish red – gift of Nature
No wonder the American Indians used to dye fabric with cranberries.
They use a heavy yellow tape to corralle floating cranberries into a corner.
Gathering cranberries with a shovel and a rake.
Interesting that they use rakes.
Wet cranberry paddies like this are called bogs.
When cranberry seedlings are planted in the beds in the spring, there is no water in the beds. Clean sand is hauled into the beds and irrigation equipment is installed in the beds to keep soil moist. The beds are flooded when autumn comes before harvesting (September-October). A harvester machine is driven through the beds to beat off the fruit off the vines. The cranberry fruit float in the water and is then corralled into a corner of the bed and sucked up with a pipe and loaded into a truck.
A guy watching the show from on the top of the machine. I think he is a Mexican. In western Michigan, which is a big agricultural area, you see many Mexicans. I hear a lot of them come here in a family to work in the farms.
The cranberries are carried to the washing/sorting station.
The other bog next to the show – two men were raking something under the water. Were they shaking the cranberry vines? I wanted to find it out, but the guide was surrounded by the other tourists, busy answering their questions. I gave up.
Leftover cranberries of prior harvesting?
You can see the vines under the water.
A harvester that beats off cranberry fruit from the vines under the water was on display. It must be pretty expensive. How many years does it take to get the money back? This machine is driven in the bogs to beat off the cranberry fruit with the teeth in the front and the back.
Unfortunately this show did not include showing this harvester working in the bog. The cranberries had already been beaten off the vines before the show.
The rear of the harvester. The boys were very interested in the machine. In any country, any time, boys are always interested in machines (girls are usually not). I am not trying to be a sexist. It is truly what I have observed in my life.
Cranberry seedlings. This was the first time I ever saw cranberry seedlings. In recent years, nursery stores are carrying them in spring. How difficult is it to grow cranberries in your backyard?
The cranberry beds are kept flooded during the winter. The water freezes into ice, so the cranberries pass the winter under the ice, protected by ice against low temperature. Seems strange that ice protects them from frost, but frost damages plants, ice does not, I guess (you can see I don’t know much about agriculture…).
In early spring when ice and snow melt, they drain the water. Then the plants are pollinated and grow during the summer.
Every 3 to 5 years, in winter they drive trucks on the beds covered with ice to spread sand on the beds. This is to furtilize the soil. As we know, the soil becomes poor as we grow plants on the same soil every year. The sand spread on top of the ice falls on the plants when the ice melts and fertilizes the plants. It’s interesting that sand is fertilizer for cranberries.
I never know that cranberries are native to North America. Japanese know very little about cranberries. I did not know anything about them until I moved to the U.S. They grow on sandy soil. That’s why they grow in very limited regions: Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Nantucket, Maine, Oregon, Washington,, Minnesota, Canada, and Michigan. Western Michigan is suited for growing cranberries because the soil is sandy near Lake Michigan (there are lots of sand dunes in western Michigan) and it’s cold. This is awesome. Western Michigan is one of very few places in the world that can produce cranberries.
In addition to North America, cranberries grow only in northern Asia and northern Europe – that’s it for the entire world.
This map is borrowed from Wikipedia. Inside the red line are the regions cranberries can grow. Inside the green line indicates where cranberries can grow in the U.S. Inside the orange line is where small cranberries can grow (northern Europe and northern Asia) – I did not know cranberries grow in northern Asia. Before I moved to the U.S. from Asia, I never had cranberries in my life.
Cranberries have anti-cancer effects as they are rich in antioxidants. They are also rich in vitamin C. They are called “super fruit”.
At the receiving area, cranberries are unloaded from the truck (left), and washed and sorted inside the building (right).
Poured inside the building for washing.
Two Mexican women were hand-sorting the cranberries. These women and the guy who was watching the show from the truck must be the family. This kind of monotonous work is often done by Mexicans. Americans don’t want to or can’t do this kind of work well (you can’t find good American workers for the pay) – that’s what my late father-in-law, who was in the pesticide business, used to say. I don’t think I would be able to work like this for hours, either. I hear Mexicans are very hard workers; they are very fast, accurate, and physically very tough. The agriculture in the U.S. very much depends on Mexicans.
After hand-sorted, the cranberries are further sorted by the computer. The ones that don’t meet the criteria are identified and ejected.
A closer look at the monitor: Percentage Ejected 2.11%, Average Ejected 1.97%, Berries per Second 711. Looks like the color criteria for ejection are set in it. Agriculture is pretty high-tech.
The back of the monitor
The end of the process. The cranberries are constantly spitted from the end of the machine into the barrel.
From the barrel into the plastic bins.
The farm runs a gift shop. Most shoppers were women. Are women more interested in food than men? Or —
Men were watching football games You don’t see many American men out anywhere on autumn Saturdays.
Inside the blue doors is where they wash and sort out cranberries. When I came here for blueberry U-pick in summer, they were working on the blueberries (again Mexicans were working there – they may have been the same people). It was open to public. I could watch them very closely in there.
I purchased 2 packs of fresh cranberries. $1.50 per pack – good price. The casher told me these were packed right here, behind the blue doors. By the way, these fresh cranberries are not the ones harvested in the bogs.
There are 2 ways of harvesting cranberries: wet harvest and dry harvest. What I saw was wet harvest. Those harvested by wet harvest are used for processed products like canned cranberry sauce and cranberry juice.
Fresh cranberries come from dry harvest. They do not flood the beds for dry harvest; they comb cranberry fruits from the vines using a mechanized picking machine that looks a little like a lawn mower.
Most fresh cranberries I see in stores are Ocean Spray-brand , but recently I have seen more and more Michigan cranberries on sale. This farm forms a co-op with the other farms in the area. The co-op distributes blueberries in summer to the metro Detroit under the brand name of Great Lakes Blueberries.
Long time ago before the specialized machines were invented, cranberries were only dry-harvested by hands. There is a 19th-century painting of dry harvest in Wikipedia. You can see in the painting people hand-picking cranberries in the dry fields in Nantucket.
Next to the parking area of the farm is their blueberry U-pick area. I did not know blueberry bushes turn to autumn colors. Pretty.
The main building of the farm – the washing/sorting station and the gift shop are in this building.
This farm actually was one of my late father-in-law’s customers more than 25 years ago. My late father-in-law was the regional sales manager of a big pesticide company. He was in charge of the Great Lakes regions and his office was in South Haven. He used to drive around in the western Michigan to visit the farms, including this one.
Blueberry bushes on the other side of the road, Blue Star Highway. Blue Star Highway is one of the key roads in southwestern Michigan. What a cool name – Blue Star – poetic and romantic.
Agri-tourism like this cranberry harvest show is becoming popular. I hear more than 1,000 people come to the show in one day. People are interested in food. So am I.
This farm is a supplier of Ocean Spray, the leading company of cranberry products in the world. Awesome.
I am excited (!) that there are cranberry bogs in Michigan, only a few hours’ drive from my home.