Bearberries – An Eco-Friendly Industry


In the mid-1600’s, Settlers in America coined the term “Bearberries” after seeing the voracious appetite bears had for the cranberry, nature’s robust ruby. The Cranberry is a slender, trailing North American shrub, cultivated in the northern United States, Canada, and Chile. Often associated with the holiday known as Thanksgiving, this fruit represents much more than a sauce. The cranberry, like Wisconsin’s 100% Pure Maple Syrup, is an unmistakable grab at the global pallet (otherwise known as state pride). Although at times victim to overproduction, the cranberry industry has expanded and created new products and markets which help protect its commercial vulnerability. In 2014, the USDA estimated that Wisconsin’s cranberry harvest of 5.39 million barrels (approximately 100L) accounted for 60% of our nation’s total production of 8.57 million barrels. Maintaining and expanding Wisconsin’s flourishing cranberry business is a study in embracing the science behind a warming planet, and the unpredictable gorge of the open market.

Cranberries are grown on 21,000 acres across 20 counties in Wisconsin. The sand and peat marshes in northern and central Wisconsin create the ideal growing conditions for cranberries. During the early 1890s, the summit of the Wisconsin cranberry industry shifted to the Cranmoor area, just west of Wisconsin Rapids. Later developments took place in the Black River Falls, Warrens and Tomah areas, followed by cranberry farms in northern Wisconsin, primarily around Manitowish Waters, Eagle River, Spooner and Hayward. The cranberry industry is continuously growing.

53d92f944c4e5.imageCranberries grow on vines in sandy fields, and when ready for harvest, water is pumped over them. The tiny air pockets located within the vines force the berries to the surface, allowing for their cultivation. 

The fruit was initially only sold fresh, then it became a popular canned good with potential for wider distribution. Various smaller businesses began marketing it as a juice, eventually forming the conglomerate known as Ocean Spray. After passing through these phases, other companies and markets began to flower: compotes, jellies, for use in sauces and dressings, as an ingredient for cooking and baking, as a healthy snack, part of your favorite martini, and as a welcome stalwart of human health with capacities to fight chronic disease. Some of Wisconsin’s cranberry farms have gift shops and allow for tours. Other countries, including China, have visited our state to purchase some of the nation’s finest bearberries with the design to introduce it’s flavor into Chinese cuisine. An increased demand for health-conscious products in China has also brought buyers to our state, and the demand for health-conscious products is rising around the world. The cranberry is our official state fruit, but is that a label without weight in today’s era?

With the unmistakeable advent of global warming, industries within Wisconsin such as the cranberry and maple syrup (that can thrive alongside nature without destroying it permanently), demand greater examination. Although there may be temporary benefit to Wisconsin’s pending deal with the Foxconn company, it may also serve as a badge of merit to pin on one’s self in time of election. Right now, in the midst of climate change and deep divide within the people of Wisconsin, the courting of this corporate juggernaut only pushes the wedge deeper. The Taiwan-based Foxconn has been found to be a sinister polluter in other Asian countries, most notably China. If ground is eventually broken to allow for this enterprise, Wisconsin must be ready to acknowledge that Foxconn will need massive volumes of water, water from Lake Michigan that will have to be treated because it is exposed to many potentially polluting chemicals like cadmium, copper, zinc, chromium and benzene (an industrial organic solvent) in making it’s LCD screens. The inevitable gift of toxicity and the grandiose waste of fresh water is what Foxconn means to Wisconsin. Other businesses, as well as homes and schools will surface about the factory area as a result of this temporary “boost” to the economy. However, present and future generations will confront poisoned water, a profound farewell to the magical Great Lakes and our inland waters, then become saddled with an inability to afford repairing the beauty of the Badger State and it’s precious fresh water.

Meanwhile, water reclamation and at-farm green energy sources are becoming increasingly prevalent at cranberry farms. One important danger about harvesting cranberries (like many other crops), is the use of pesticides. The application of pesticides on cranberries has the potential to pollute larger bodies of water outside the marshes. Certain pesticides are also harmful to the bee population, who are attracted to the cranberry’s small, dark pink flowers. The recognition of the dangers of pesticides used in farming is widespread; the need to promulgate the plight of our world’s most treasured insect, dire. Increased investment in a renown family industry of Wisconsin is certainly not the only approach we can pursue to meet our needs in today’s climate, rather part of a broader artifice that does not include summoning corporations needing to deplete our resources and poison our land to thrive. Businesses can certainly be courted to relocate in Wisconsin, but elect me as your Governor, and we’ll look for new recipes – together!

Cranberry Harvest 2006 037


“The quality of life on a cranberry marsh is wonderful and it’s a wonderful place to raise a family and have that closeness of raising a product that is healthy for the consumer.” ~ Nodji Van Wychen, Owner, Wetherby Cranberry Company (founded in 1903).

*During her interview in 2012, Mrs. Van Wychen noted that her favorite cranberry recipe is simply dipping a berry in melted caramel.





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