The Cranberry Harvest in Wisconsin

A sea of cranberries as we look across the flooded fields, ready for harvest
This week is the peak of cranberry harvest in central Wisconsin, so a couple friends, my 8 year old son and I went to Wisconsin Rapids to experience the cranberry harvest first hand.  It's a 3 hour drive, so technically it's a road trip in my book.  That means we pack up the car with snacks and try to find some interesting places to see enroute.  My mother taught me that no trip should be too direct.  It really is about the journey, as well as the destination.  We took a somewhat scenic route away from the interstate system, that took us through smaller towns and allowed us to see some of the beautiful fall color.  We stopped at Montello so I could show my friends the waterfall and the largest tree.  How many people can claim they have done that?
Waterfall at an old quarry in downtown Montello, WI

The largest tree in WI- a cottonwood.  It was as wide as our car!
We spent the night in a hotel at Wisconsin Rapids, but the cranberry fields/marshes are outside of town.  There's a route you can take that is quite scenic during harvest, called the cranberry highway.  We drove on it the next day and found it beautiful.  I had ordered a tourism brochure from Wisconsin Rapids, and spoken with the person who runs the office.  She suggested we try 2 very different tours if we had time.  One was done by high school students at Pittsville High School (the only school in the nation with a cranberry science class), called a Splash of Red Cranberry tour.  The other was at a grower who had a visitor center, Glacial Lake Cranberries.  As it turns out, Wisconsin is the largest cranberry producer in the US.

We arrived at Pittsville school at 9:15 and started the day with a short film in the auditorium.  The presentation was done by the Future Farmers of America advisor and the students from the class.  We boarded school buses and rode to marshes about 25 minutes outside of town, where we could see the fields and watch the process from the beginning.  There were fields with berries ready to be picked.  These are flooded.  The berries are corralled using plastic hosing and workers who use blowers or rakes to keep them moving.  They go up conveyer belts to trucks who then bring them into town for processing and freezing.  We also toured the offloading point, freezers, and lab.  At each stop, the students explained the processes.  After the tour, we were served hot lunch at the school and got samples of dried cranberries and juice to take with us.  It was a bargain at $20 per person.

In the afternoon, we started what should have been just an hour tour at Glacial Lake Cranberries.  They have a small visitor center where you can buy "all things cranberry".  They began the tour with the same video, and then you load a bus to go just across the street to where they have more than a dozen fields, I think.  It was unique that there was a man on the tour who studies pesticides for cranberries from UW Madison, and he knew the owners and had done research on that farm in the past.  Our tour ran a bit longer because he added his knowledge to the tour.  They have pesticides that have such a short life that the berries become almost immediately safe for consumption.  The sun was shining and we managed to capture some really colorful images that I'll share with you.  It was a great way to spend a day!
The berries have a lot of bounce.  You can see this when the truck empties.

The harvester goes through the marsh and picks the berries which float

A cranberry field that hasn't been picked yet.  They grow in dry conditions.

A worker rakes the berries.  He said they were about a foot deep.  It was a good harvest year.


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