How did cranberries become such an important crop in the area? Cranberries, they are the state fruit of Wisconsin and something you commonly think of when you think about this state. Why is that? Wisconsin's cranberry industry contributes nearly $350 million annually to the states economy and supports 7200 jobs. We are the national leader in cranberry farming and produce more than 50% of the cranberries that Americans consume each year! As of 2007, cranberries are produced on 18,000 acres in 19 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. The three counties with the most acres include Wood, Jackson and Monroe.
Of course the weather plays a huge role in growing and harvesting cranberries. In fact these cranberries were natural to our environment and discovered in the mid 1800's. Therefore, some of our marshes have been around for more than 100 years!
Cranberries are grown in low lying areas that are acidic in nature. To grow they need abundant supply of water and sand. The water is used for many purposes including irrigation, frost protection (during spring and fall), winter flooding for the cold and harvesting. Sand is used for rejuvenating the vine.
The cranberries that are harvested in fall actually bud in the latter part of the summer before. When I was out on the marsh I saw the cranberry that would be harvested plus the new bud. In addition to the cranberry there is also a flower that blooms in late June to early July. The fruit received its name because of the flower. The flower resembles a sand hill crane hence the berry was once called a "craneberry" which was eventually shortened to the name we know, cranberry.
Stayed tuned for another article on "How are cranberries harvested and how do they live through winter?".
A big thanks to Glacial Lake Cranberries for showing me around and explaining the history!
For more information you can check out the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association- http://www.wiscran.org/