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Plymouth, MA – Centuries before the first colonists arrived on local shores, the Wompanoag used what they called “sour berries” in their daily lives. Not only did they incorporate the small red berries into their food and drink, they also used cranberries for fabric dye, and as medicine used in traditional healing rituals to treat wounds, fight fever, swelling, and seasickness.

Although this Native Americans introduced this “super food” to the colonists upon their arrival, it was only embraced when they sweetened the bitter berry with honey, and an industry was soon formed.

Captain Henry Hall, of Dennis, Massachusetts, began cultivating wild cranberries in 1816. His unique technique of transplanting vines and spreading sand over them caught on quickly. Soon local wetlands all over Cape Cod were converted to bogs. By 1871, an association of cranberry growers was formed to support this new and burgeoning industry.

To standardize the measure with which cranberries are sold, the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association (CCCGA) was formed in 1888. As one of the country’s oldest farmers’ organizations, the CCCGA represents about 330 growers throughout Massachusetts. Based in Plymouth, the organization helps growers with regulatory compliance and professional development. It also holds the Massachusetts Cranberry Harvest Festival each October and has invested more than $500,000 in cranberry research to help improve the efficiency and environmental compatibility of cranberry farms. A key mission of the CCCGA is to ensure that cranberry farming can survive urbanization and that open space and clean water, vital to cranberry cultivation, is preserved.

The South Shore and Cape are steeped in more than 200 years of cranberry cultivation. Many families have been farming these berries for generations. Traditions abound throughout our region, as many families grew up on area bogs. For example, three generations of Rickers have been in the business for more than 100 years. Currently, Earle B. Ricker, who took over the bogs and bought them from his father in 1971, has about 15 acres in Duxbury. And Will and Willie Stearns, of Southers Marsh, with bogs in Plymouth and Carver, expanded their fourth generation cranberry business to include a golf course in 2001-Southers Marsh Golf Club. Both businesses are a family affair for the Stearns.

Brian Wicks, Executive Director for the CCCGA, explains how the cranberry industry is vitally important to the economic and ecological health of Massachusetts, and in particular, the southeastern part of the state, Cape Cod, and Nantucket, where commercial bogs are located. He notes, “The industry provides nearly 6,900 jobs which includes both direct on-farm and manufacturing jobs, and also the businesses that help support the industry with goods and services.” Along with the reliance on jobs, the industry is also vital to our environment. Wicks says, “There are more than 60,000 acres of open space as a direct result of cranberry farms, including bogs and surrounding land. Many animals live there, including endangered, rare and threatened species, so the industry helps preserve our wildlife.” Wicks also notes that water resources are preserved, maintained, and controlled. “Because of the farms, water in and around bogs, swamps, reservoirs, and ponds, is actively managed by the growers and helps with flooding events and storm damage.”

Wick notes that the cranberry industry has been a mainstay here in the Bay State, where it began, for more than 200 years. As a super fruit that is native to this area, the humble cranberry has grown to be more than just a Thanksgiving table side dish, as it has found its way into mainstream consumer food products and is exported throughout the world.

For more information on the cranberry industry, visit the CCCGA website, www.cranberries.org. You’ll find it packed with information including the history of the industry, facts about the fruit, delicious recipes, interesting statistics, news about local events and how to visit a bog, and stories about local cranberry growers.

Can cranberries grow anywhere?
Cranberries are a unique fruit. They can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors. Cranberries grow on low-running vines in impermeable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. They require an acidic, peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand and a dormancy period in the winter months that provides an extended chilling period, necessary to mature fruiting buds.

Are cranberries grown in water?
No, commercial cranberry bogs are actually dry. Cranberries require supplemental water from in-ground irrigation systems during the growing season if there is not enough natural rainfall.

How many cranberries are there in a gallon of juice?
There are about 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of a typical cranberry juice product.

How did the cranberry get its name?
The name “cranberry” derives from the Pilgrim name for the fruit, “craneberry”, so called because the small, pink blossoms that appear in the spring resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill Crane.

How many cranberries are there in a pound?
It depends on the variety of cranberry but in the most common variety in Massachusetts, Early Black, there are about 440 cranberries.