During my first year at business school I am working with Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. on a consulting project. Ocean Spray is a cooperative, owned by a network of over 600 growers. My good friend KS happens to know two of those growers very well (her Uncle and Grandfather), The Morse Brothers, who have been a part of Ocean Spray for four generations. So, she was awesome enough to arrange a visit to one of their cranberry bogs!

The Morse Brothers currently operate the second largest set of bogs in Massachusetts (see their website for locations) and also have some bogs in Canada. Combined they are the are the 4th or 5th largest grower in the world.

This particular set of bogs was in Plympton, MA, right near Carver, yeah I’ve never been out there, but it was a lovely autumn drive. When we arrived the harvest was in full swing. Cranberries are harvested in two ways, wet harvest and dry harvest. We witnessed a wet harvest. In a wet harvest the cranberry bog is flooded when the berries are ripe and picked with a machine. Since the berries are so full of air they float to the top.

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Wet harvest cranberries are used in juice, crasins and anything processed. Dry harvested cranberries, which are pick off the bushes with a machine, are the ones we buy at Thanksgiving. Also, there’s a method behind the flooding of the bogs. Each bog is built at a different level, so first the highest bog is flooded, then drained and the water is transferred to the next lowest, until you’re all done. This of course requires that bogs be near bodies of water.

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You can see a flooded and un-flooded bog in this picture.

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After a bog is flooded the berries are picked with this machine.

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Once all the cranberries are floating around the growers put on their waders and get bogging. A very long piece of rubber, that’s basically a huge belt gathers all the berries together into one spot. Then, a huge pump is put in the water and the lil’ berries are raked towards the pump by the growers and sucked in. Then they are separated out from the leaves, spray washed and loaded into the truck, which makes its way to an Ocean Spray facility in Carver, MA. Once there the berries are washed again frozen for at least 3 months, then juiced or crasin-a-fied. Here are two really short videos of the process.

Here are some pictures of the loading and washing.

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At the plant each truck is weighed on the way in and on the way out and 3 different samples are taken and analyzed for percentage of useable berries. Usually around 96% are useable. The growers are paid by the barrel and the truck usually carries about 475 barrels of useable berries.

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Since Ocean Spray is a Co-Op the growers are all paid the same price per barrel and in addition have to put in a certain amount of equity (into Ocean Spray) per barrel, hence the joint ownership!

Each acre of cranberries in Massachusetts produces about 300 barrels, but the Morse Brothers planted a new crop this yer that’s supposed to yield 500 barrels. Once you plant a crop it takes about 5 years until they can be harvested, so you need some advance planning. And, due to all the wet weather this summer the crop wasn’t as good as in years before. Plus, berry plants aren’t cheap, an acre of cranberry plants will run you about $12,000.

Currently, the global demand for cranberries exceeds the supply! So, if you are looking for a new line of work, get some waders, and think about growing.

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