With Thanksgiving around the corner, Oregon’s cranberry harvest is in full swing. Nearly 3,000 acres of the tiny, tart fruit are grown in the state, with production centered on the scenic South Coast.
Two farms in Sixes and Bandon bring different but successful approaches to the cultivation of this fruit that’s become a trademark of the holiday season.
On a sunny morning at Peters’ Cranberries, a tractor-like piece of equipment with a churning reel in the front, called a “beater,” drives through thigh-deep water, knocking bright red cranberries loose from their vines. The bog where they grow has been flooded for harvest, allowing the berries to float to the top of the water where they are collected.
For the owner of Peters’ Cranberries, Sara Osborne, this is a special time in the harvest season.
“I love days like today,” Osborne says. “It’s kind of a dramatic look when you see the berries floating out there, and the blue sky and everything.”
Peters’ is a family-owned farm in the small community of Sixes, located a few miles north of Port Orford. Its farmers have been growing cranberries in the area since 1966. Peters’ uses wet harvesting, a common and straightforward method that involves flooding the bog.
After the floating berries are corralled by a containment device called a “Cranberrier,” they are conveyed onto a truck. It then hauls the berries up the road to the cleaning plant, where they are cleaned, inspected and processed. Boxes are filled, labeled and distributed to large processors.
According to the USDA, Oregon’s cranberries make up about 8% of all U.S. production. Osborne says the soil on the southern Oregon coast offers ideal growing conditions. She says Peters’ Cranberries produces around 8,000 barrels of fruit per year.
The property also has a small farmstand down the road from the plant, so that local people can buy fresh cranberries and cranberry products. Inside the quaint wooden shed are shelves lined with everything from chutneys to BBQ sauce to cranberry sauce with pinot wine. Osborne and her husband, along with her son’s family make the treats.
“It’s fun; we make a lot of products that kind of go with the holiday food,” Osborne says. “It just feels a little bit special to be able to do that.”
Further up the coast outside of Bandon, just a mile from the ocean, tall evergreen trees line golden fields at Black Moon Farms. Nick Kelly operates the farm where he also lives, along with his dog, Bella, two farm cats, and 40 sheep that munch on the cranberries that are too broken or squishy for grocery stores. He’s been at Black Moon for 10 years, and considers himself a “modern farmer.”
For Kelly’s cranberry bogs, he does what’s known as dry harvesting.
“It’s kind of totally the opposite from the traditional way of harvesting,” Kelly says, “where they flood the bog and they’re in waders and doing their thing like an Ocean Spray commercial.”
Instead of flooding, Kelly uses a machine called a Furford. The antique device combs the vines around in a clockwise direction, both harvesting the berries and stimulating new growth for the next year.
Kelly thinks that dry harvesting is the future of cranberry farming, because it doesn’t rely on as much water as wet harvesting, and it gives the berries a longer shelf life.
Black Moon Farms produces about 20,000 pounds of cranberries per year, and sells them fresh to grocery stores. Kelly also does smaller orders for bakeries and friends out of state.
Though he also grows chestnuts, blueberries and aronia berries, cranberries are Kelly’s biggest harvest and a source of job security. He says he knows they’re a holiday tradition that isn’t going to go away.
“I get a chance to grow a crop that I know is going to be on people’s Thanksgiving tables,” Kelly says. “That’s kind of a special thing for me.”