Thanksgiving is a pre-game for the cranberry-filled holidays. Cranberry sauce is a thanksgiving feast favorite. The cranberry is a berry harvested in the fall and can be well preserved into the holidays. You can find cranberries in cocktails and tucked in pine wreaths. As winter approaches, the color compliments the holiday season and is symbolic of early American festivities.
Ocean Spray & New Jersey
New Jersey is among the top three producers of cranberries in the U.S., according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Today’s largest cranberry organization in the United States is Ocean Spray (NJ.Gov). Ocean Spray was founded in 1930 by growers, including New Egypt, NJ, cranberry sauce originator Elizabeth Lee (NJ.com). Today Ocean Spray includes roughly two dozen growers in New Jersey.
New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve
The New Jersey Pinelands is a national reserve and natural diamond for growing cranberries. These coastal wetland forests are a unique ecosystem with cedar-colored creeks and pine trees. The nationally protected lands include “a million acres, stretching over more than a fifth of the state.” So how does New Jersey handle the holiday season of cranberries?
In “How farmers in New Jersey’s Pinelands grapple with the environmental toll of Thanksgiving cranberries” by Steph Yin with NPR’s The Pulse, she dives into the challenges and methods of cranberry farming in one of the only states that naturally grow cranberries. The article reads a beautiful description of the Pinelands,
“Rattlesnakes slither, bobcats slink, and bald eagles soar across the landscape. Rare orchids, carnivorous plants, and pygmy pitch pines, with gnarly branches and multiple trunks per tree, sprout from sandy, acidic soil, which the locals call “sugar sand.” Rivers and streams flow with what looks like tea, the water dyed reddish-brown from cedar trees.”
Water for Cranberry Farming
This water is crucial to cranberry farming. The piney marshlands have a lot of water. If you’re a pineland native, you have seen the bogs filled with water or farmers up to their chest waist in waders. Yin reports, “The cranberries are hard to pick from the vines on the ground. Flooding the bogs with water allows the cranberries to float to the surface.”
Luckily, the Pine Barrens is overtop a natural aquafer with “17 trillion gallons of bacterially sterile, sand-filtered water, which scientists have compared to melted glacial ice.”
Cranberry farming can threaten waterways, and media sources such as Vice have exposed it. The industry has been criticized for its exemption from the Federal Clean Water Act due to a loophole. Synthetic chemicals are used to protect cranberry plants from insects and diseases. The wetlands allow a perfect environment for insects, fungi, and parasites. These chemicals can run off into local streams, rivers, and waterways.
Insects such as leafhoppers cause false blossom disease. Diseases like these almost eradicated the cranberry farming industry in the 30s throughout New Jersey. Pests and chemicals have been an issue for this historical cranberry farming culture in Southern New Jersey. Although, farmers explain how they use pesticides sparingly, and even too much will prevent the berries from blooming.
In recent years, Rutgers has been working with farmers to fight against diseases with sustainable methods. For example, they uncovered that wasps attack the eggs of leafhoppers. Utilizing relationships within the ecosystem can eliminate pesticides and toxicity from waterways. Studying sustainability can offer new opportunities to industries and plants that have been successful before colonization.
As you’re drinking cocktails with cranberries this holiday season, remember these berries have a high chance of being grown in New Jersey. The history of New Jersey cranberries even led to the creation of Ocean Spray. Growing up in the Pine Barrens is a unique and challenging ecosystem. Hopefully, this is the beginning of learning more about the 1-million-acre national reserve known as the Pinelands in New Jersey.