October 29, 2018
BC Cranberries: A Local's View From The Bog
Did you know that British Columbia is the fourth largest cranberry producer worldwide based on volume at harvest? In the Vancouver area, I’m surprised to find out that there are farms in Langley, Richmond, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and Burnaby. We head out to one of the May Family farms in Richmond BC on a gorgeous sunny Tuesday at the start of harvest season.
Gord Haines from Ocean Spray meets us to do a tour – Ocean Spray is a grower-owned agricultural cooperative, meaning 100% of farmer grown fruit profits are handed back to them. A hands on experience awaits; our first job is to put on hip waders so we can go out into the bog and experience the harvest for ourselves -it’s beautiful out, but the water is cold and almost reaches my waist in some places.
I learn that Cranberries are native to North America and that they’re low growing vines with a 16 month growing cycle. By the time the fruit is being harvested, the fruit for next year has already set on the vines.
I’m standing on a dyke situated between two 22-acre fields, the view is beautiful. The field on the right is still growing and is a sea of green-purple plants, the field on the right a beautiful red and ready for harvest.
Cranberries contain four air chambers that help them float in water making it easier for the farmer to release and collect the fruit using the wet harvest method. The method of picking is to flood the field about one foot and then use a beater machine to circulate the water and loosen the fruit. Once the fruit floats, more water is added to raise the level and ensure that all the berries will be harvested. Once the fruit is all floating, the harvest machine is brought in and large booms are used to corral the berries towards the elevator suction ladder that pumps the berries up into the truck.
It is pretty impressive to see and seems entirely efficient - 22 acres can be pulled off the field and taken to the preliminary processing plant in a day or two.
Once the first truck is loaded, we follow it to the Ocean Spray processing plant. The facility is less than 3 minutes away and when we arrive, we don hairnets, hard hats and protective goggles – quite the sight. We walk over to the weigh in and testing station, then to the unloading zone.
The factory had just experienced its busiest day ever with 2.8 million pounds of berries crossing the scale in one day! The harvest starts in September and generally runs no later than Remembrance Day due to impending frost. In that time, Ocean Spray will bring in a staggering 50-60 million pounds of berries.
Once the truck pulls into the bay, the overhead water spouts are turned on and the berries are floated so they can be smoothly released out of the truck. It takes about four minutes.
From the holding tanks, the cranberries ride a ladder into the facility that cleans and sorts by quality and colour and separates any extra stems or leaves. Through the facility, the sorting and drying continues through a series of ladders and scales. Once the fruit is fully sorted, it goes into bins that are sent across the border - primarily to be processed into juice and into their trademark Craisins.
The thing that impresses me most is the testing lab; each batch that comes in is tested for quality, colour, firmness and ripeness. Samples are stored until the whole lot is processed and each batch sample is recorded for traceability. The protocols are outstanding and I have 100% confidence that the fruit coming in is going to be top grade.
I think I’ll leave here consuming more cranberries. They are higher in antioxidants than pretty much every other fruit out there, which makes it a mystery as to why cranberries aren’t more engrained in our diets. They have very little sugar content, which is a bonus if you like tart. I feel like there are many possibilities for fresh cranberries in baked goods and compotes.
If you are near a cranberry bog this fall, I urge you to go take a look, try some cranberries and support local farmers. There are about 80 families farming cranberries in our area that we can support!