Cranberry Capital

Iconic Communities, Odd Jobs, On the Road, People
on September 10, 2000

Sauce is just the beginning; Try the pudding and cream puffs.

Whoever goes into the cranberry business needs a well filled pocketbook, an empty skull, and a magnifying glass, says Peggy Anderson, quoting her great-great-grandfather, Asa C. Bennett, one of the first cranberry growers in the region around Warrens, Wis.

Pocketbooks soon become empty; a magnifying glass finds where the money went, and the empty skull is used to store experience, Anderson explains.

Farmers around Warrens (pop. 400) have generations of experience growing cranberries, one of only three major fruits native to North America, and Wisconsins No. 1 fruit crop. Commercial production began in Wisconsin in 1860 when Edward Sacket arrived and began cultivating the cranberry marsh he found on his land near Berlin, 60 miles east of Warrens.

Today, about 200 cranberry marshes are cultivated in 18 central and northern Wisconsin counties. More than 6,500 acres, or about 42 percent of the states cranberry acreage, lie within a 15-mile radius of Warrens, earning it the title, Cranberry Capital of Wisconsin.

Anderson and her family continue to grow cranberries on lands first cultivated by her great-great-grandfather nearly a century ago. The ruby red berries grow in sandy peat soil on dry land, but are harvested in September and October by flooding the beds with water, allowing the berries to float to the surface. Acidic soil, an abundant water supply, and sand make the area ideal for growing cranberries.

Adjacent to the Anderson marsh east of Warrens is the Cranberry Expo Museum, started by her relatives in 1989. The museum is open daily from April 1 to Oct. 31, exhibiting historic items used in cultivating and harvesting the crop. More than 500 items are displayed, including implements used by Andersons ancestors around the turn of the century.

Special harvesting equipment still employed today illustrates the ingenuity of the early growers who designed, shared, and improved on each others creations for the benefit of all. Over the years, cranberry growers have planted their acreage with new hybrids that produce bigger, redder berries. Higher yields and good weather have created bumper crops in recent years, making Wisconsin the top cranberry producing state in the nation.

Most growers sell their crop to large processors such as Northland and Ocean Spray. Roughly four-fifths of the crop is used as ingredients in other products, ranging from juices, cereals, and mustards, to tea, baking mixes, and sausages.

June Potter, a grower who has been active on Warrens Cranberry Festival committees for more than 15 years, says the most unique food she has ever tasted is hot cranberry soup. But my favorite is cranberry nut pudding pie, she adds.

Warrens tiny population swells to 100,000 during the annual harvest festival, scheduled for Sept. 22-24 this year. In addition to marsh, museum, and receiving station tours, youll find cranberry cream puffs, cranberry sundaes, and cranberries jubilee to sample. Last year the festivals dedicated volunteers raised $55,000 for ballpark improvements, fire station equipment, student scholarships, and tree planting throughout the village.

Cranberry growers in Warrens proudly carry on their community and family heritage of self-sufficiency and stewardship of the land, viewing todays bountiful crops as exciting challenges for developing new products and marketing globally.

Its very hard work, Potter adds. So much is Gods gift of weather.