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As cranberry harvest begins, one organic grower sees success

As cranberry harvest begins, Wisconsin prepares to lead the nation in cranberry production for the 27th year in a row. Organic cranberries make up a fraction of that market, but one with growing interest.

Bright red berries tumble down from a giant wagon in a warehouse set to the side of a hundred acres of cranberry fields.

They bounce onto a conveyor belt and are swept through a series of machines that wash and sort them.

John Stauner, president of James Lake Farms near Three Lakes, explains the harvest process.

It starts with flooding the fields so the cranberries can float to the top and ends when the berries are packaged in 41-pound boxes.

In a single day, Stauner estimates about 45,000 pounds of berries are boxed and shipped away.

“We can make up to 21 pallets in a day,” he says. “That’s about the capacity on our line right now.”

It’s a small fraction of the 4.7 million barrels of cranberries Wisconsin growers expect to harvest this fall.

To put that in perspective, that’s more than half of the world’s supply of cranberries.

It’s so much fruit that there’s been a surplus in recent years, which, in the past, has forced some farmers to throw out berries to regulate prices.

But Stauner doesn’t have that problem.

That’s because he’s a certified organic grower – one of only seven or eight in the state.

“Our whole goal is to grow something that’s good for the people and good for the land on which it’s growing,” Stauner says.

The organic sector has grown in recent years; Stauner says it’s not uncommon for organic food sales to jump by 20 percent in a year.

“It’s been the case if we can grow an organic cranberry, we can sell it,” he says.

That’s certainly the hope this year, as berries roll in from the fields.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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