Cranberry Crop Overview
Location: Carver, Massachusetts
There are few things so quintessential to New England as the cranberry bog. The bogs of Cape Cod date back over 200 years and cranberries are the number one agricultural crop in Massachusetts. The berries also grow in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Quebec but are most often associated with the Bay State. Given this heritage, Massachusetts plates are filled with cranberry delights not only during the harvest season but also year-round. From cranberry muffins to jellies and pure juice, this is one berry that has no shortage of uses.
History of the Decas Business
Greek immigrant brothers Nicholas, Charles and William Decas started the company in 1934. Today, into their ninth decade, Decas is still a family owned business, now selling their cranberry products around the world. Decas sources its premium cranberries from its family’s own 450 acres of bogs in Massachusetts and in partnership with over 130 distinctive independent cranberry farmers. Committed to quality, community and sustainability, its mission is to provide a healthy, superior fruit. Decas has expertise in every aspect of growing, processing, and marketing cranberries.
What does a typical day here look like for you?
Well, for our growers farming is a year-round business with different activities during different times of the year. During the summer a farmer is out on the bogs with a net every day combing the vines, looking for bugs and making sure the vines are well-fed. If you have ever vacationed on Cape Cod, you have likely seen this process. Cranberry farming is not a job, it's a way of life. Our guys are on call 24/7. The bogs are like our kids, outside of the harvest we put them to bed.
Off-season can actually be even busier, when we are maintaining the bog post-harvest and making sure our equipment will be ready for next year’s growing season.
What is something people don't know about cranberries?
It is one of only a handful of fruits native to North America. Concord grapes and blueberries are the other two that are commercially harvested.
How are cranberries harvested?
The bogs are built on a closed loop ecosystem. Sand and water exist in each bog. We use organic farming processes as much as viable. A harvest consumes three acres of water for every one acre of cranberries. Harvests typically last from late September to early November; the fruit needs cool fall night conditions to ripen.
How many people work in the bog to reap the harvest?
We have 106 full time employees and our workforce doubles during the harvest season.
What happens after the cranberries are scooped out of the bog? How are they processed from bog to bag?
We can receive over one million cranberries in a day and we handle over 60 million pounds in a single year. Each truck that comes in carries about 50,000 lbs. from the bog to our plant. What you might not have expected is how deeply our expertise runs. The cranberry crop has such particular needs that growers often design and build their own harvesting machinery. There is no company out there making equipment that would meet our highly specialized needs.
What's the Decas farm philosophy?
Decas was the first cranberry farm to commit itself to Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a practice that keeps pests at bay by encouraging natural pest control mechanisms and minimizing pesticide use. The goal is to grow a healthy, robust crop with the least possible disruption to the ecosystems and of course, people. In fact, Decas has been a resource for other cranberry farmers on these practices, offering education and services to help farmers utilize IPM on their bogs.
What are some practices Decas uses to encourage sustainability?
We have several different sustainability initiatives in place spanning from waste management to integrated pest management (IPM). For the former, any cranberries that don’t meet our exacting standards are sold to a local cattle farmer to use as feed. Additional waste is sent to a facility to be composted.
Our IPM is handled as sustainably as possible. We only spray when our crops are threatened by pests and we have no other option. You can see our guys out on the bogs with nets physically catching pests to monitor pest pressure. The Decas family was instrumental in developing integrated pest management guidelines for managing the cranberry worms and diseases that threaten the fruit.
Why are so many cranberries grown in Massachusetts?
There are several factors that you really need to grow cranberries: water, sand and cold winter temperatures. Fortunately, we have all three here in Massachusetts. The cranberry is native to Massachusetts for this reason, and cranberry production continued to this day because we have this unique set of conditions.
What are some ways you recommend we use cranberries in meals, snacks and desserts this season? Any staff favorites?
One of the special things about cranberries is they are so versatile, adding delicious flavor, color and nutrients to so many dishes. From a topping on your yogurt or oatmeal in the morning, mixed in a salad for lunch, to the hero ingredient in your cookies for dessert, cranberries can be enjoyed any time of day. We have many favorite recipes, but cranberry smoothies, chicken salad with cranberries, roasted squash with cranberries, and white chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies are easy, everyday recipes that we all enjoy.
The 88 Acres team visiting Decas Cranberry