Lakeside Garden Club

This week, Pine Island team members Matt Giberson and Debra Signorelli organized a presentation about cranberries for the Lakeside Garden Club of Cedar Glen Lakes! It’s unusual but very exciting to give a cranberry talk in the middle of July, so we were all looking forward to it!

The Lakeside Garden Club at Cedar Glen Lakes holds monthly meetings that feature a variety of speakers ranging from general interest to garden and environmental issues in the community. They are also a certified “Hummingbird and Butterfly Friendly” community and emphasize preservation of honey bees, so they were a natural fit to hear about some of our year round growing practices.

The presentation began with a brief Haines family history, then Matt took over and walked the group through a typical year in the life of a cranberry grower, listing the various tasks the team performs each season and taking questions as he went along.

“It was a good experience to present in front of this crowd,” Matt says. “It’s interesting for them because they live so close to local growers, they’ve seen cranberry bogs when driving through the area, and now they have a closer look at what we do. It’s always an eye opener!”

“We were privileged to have such a wonderful and informative presentation on the history of the farm and how the bogs run and are maintained,” says club member Carole Nevins, who is also the proud mother of Debra Signorelli. “Our members were blown away to hear about all the different machines used and the long man hours needed to grow cranberries. We are still sharing how interesting the talks were. We all agree, we will never take those little red berries for granted again!”

Big thanks to the Lakeside Garden Club for having us; it was a wonderful chance to chat with some lovely people!

MFS Intensive Learning 2017

Yesterday we had our annual visit from the Moorestown Friends School Intensive Learning Pine Barrens program. From the MFS website:

For one week each March, regular classes are suspended for “Intensive Learning,” when Middle and Upper School students and teachers engage in an in-depth study of a specific subject, often involving off-campus research. This long-standing MFS tradition – which dates to the mid 1970s – allows teachers and students to break out of the structure of formal class periods and traditional study by subject disciplines (math, English, history) for a time of experiential learning in out-of-classroom settings.

The students in the Pine Barrens group spent some time learning about the history of the pines, and finished up their week by coming to visit us and see what people are doing in the present.

Mike Haines and Matt Giberson opened with an overview of Pine Island and our various tasks throughout the year, followed up by the always-lively John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. Afterward, we took the students out to walk through a young bog and then out to one of our forestry sites.

“I thought the kids asked some great questions,” says Mike. “It was cool this year we were not only able to tell them about our operation, but also they got to hear from John about the quail release project. Cranberry farming is part of the history of the pines as well as a continuing industry, so I really liked being able to add to the breadth of the topics they’ve been covering all week.” Matt agrees: “It was a lot of fun seeing the kids get into the tour this year, especially with John being there. It was a good opportunity to see how Pine Island’s growing season works, but also how our other projects are not only beneficial to our operation but to the community as well.”

“It was an absolute pleasure to present information about the quail translocation project to the students,” says John Parke. “It’s great to see kids getting out to the farm and learning in the field about the importance of agriculture, land management and how it ties to natural resource protection,” Parke added, “because children who are connected to the land and understand value of nature and agriculture, can positively shape the future as good stewards.”

Harvest wrap-up: 2015

Harvest is over for another year, and our teams are ready to move on to their winter tasks. This week, some of them reflected on this year’s harvest, and what some of the differences were this year.

“Based on crop conditions, we found ourselves needing to change our harvest strategy significantly,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “It was great to see the crew leads pull together and work through the new plan that was evolving every day; this was all done while learning new equipment and working on increasing efficiency, and we still completed harvest on time.”

GM Fred Torres was similarly pleased: “We had to make new plans, but once we did I feel they were well executed,” he says. “It was a job well done, as far as moving water was concerned.” He emphasized that the plans didn’t just include flooding, but actually moving water from place to place with the help of Crisafulli pumps, thanks to difficulties with the weather. This meant our picking crews also had some logistical challenges with equipment, due to the change in picking patterns. “We had to move more people and equipment around than we usually do; move a truck here, a tractor there, put extra men on the picking machines because they were picking a large bog out of the ‘usual’ order. It took planning, but in the end we did what we had to do, and we did it well!”

Team leader Matt Giberson learned a lot about water management this year. “You never stop learning,” he says, “but this year in particular had a lot to offer. All three teams mostly picked their usual assigned bogs, but we all stretched a little and went to some different sections this year. I learned a lot about different ways to flood. At the beginning of the season we had very little water; we got that big rain, which helped, but then it started drying up again. It kept us on our toes!” The bogside cleaner, which his crew ran, was also a test for them: “I was really worried the first week; it was a rough start. But the shop and the team both said, we’re gonna figure this out, and we stuck together and made a lot of great changes. There are still a couple of things to improve on, but we can fix it. I have some ideas, and so do the guys on the equipment team.” This was also Matt’s first year with the Gates Harrow, and he quickly figured out where it would work best and why.

This week, we also said goodbye to our seasonal crew until next year! Thank you, guys…we’ll see you next fall!

Blue Harvest Team

Harvest is going at full speed and all of our teams are doing whatever it takes to bring in this year’s crop. Matt Giberson, our new Blue Team supervisor, was out at Bull Coo on the home farm with his crew this week. Matt has been with us for a year and a half now, learning all the challenges and triumphs of growing cranberries and is applying knowledge of the water from winter flooding to the management of the harvest water flow.

“My main job is to handle the water,” Matt says. “I was really nervous about it at first, especially with the reservoirs being so low. But I’m learning how it all works; I spend a lot of time talking to Bill and Fred, because they know more about the water than anyone else here. And I touch base every morning about our targets: what to pick, what to gather.” Matt is also getting used to the early mornings! “It’s a long drive out to Sim Place, and when you go to bed, you’re always worried about the water: did you close that gate? Is enough coming through?” With the reservoirs being so low, Matt also has to keep an eye on the Crisafulli pumps. “There was a clog at the gate at Red Road this morning; I could tell the stream wasn’t what it was supposed to be. Bill always says, ‘Be creative, have a Plan B’, so we brought some water down from the top. It finally cleaned itself out, and now we have plenty to finish this section.”

It helps to have a couple of experienced crew leaders. Joel DeJesus, who runs the picking crew, and Kelvin Colon, who runs the gathering crew, know what they need to do to keep the balance. “Communication is key, always,” says Matt. “If that goes well, everyone’s job is made a lot easier.” And everyone pitches in. Matt tries to keep Joel’s crew knocking berries at all times, and if Kelvin’s gathering crew catches up, they will help with other tasks, such as pulling sprinklers ahead of the picking crew, while waiting. As with everything else in agriculture, a lot depends on the weather. The wind was favoring the gathering crew, which helps speed up the process considerably. And they have specialized knowledge which also helps with efficiency: Joel keeps a set of tools on him at all times, so if the chain on a harvester breaks, he can usually fix it himself and save the equipment team a trip.

With water management so central to the operation, Matt believes that knowledge is power. “The more people know about the process, the better it is. They ask questions, you give them answers. Then they can see themselves if something’s not right. Vincent was out at Sim Place the other day and noticed a couple of boards had come out, and we were able to get that under control right away.” In turn, he asks plenty of questions and learns extensively from the team members that have been here for many years. Experienced team members such as Wilfredo Pagan, Ivan Burgos, and Jorge Morales, among many others, explained picking patterns to him. Each bog is picked in a specific pattern according to terrain, and the picking crew has to carefully move their harvesters around stakes which have been arranged by the team leader for maximum operational efficiency. Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines. “That one’s still tough,” he says. “But it comes down to knowing your bogs, to keeping your feet in them and picking up the details. The more I walk them, the more I learn.”

Pine Island Cranberry is very happy to have Matt as the new Blue Team supervisor this harvest; he is a great example of the type of leadership we are trying to attract. He is passionate about farming, wants to know everything about how to grow cranberries, and is willing to do whatever it takes to help us achieve our mission. Most of our training on the farm is informal and on-the-job experience. This season, Matt has been able to lead his team and learn from the veterans at the same time, helping us do everything we do better every day.

From Bill’s Desk: “Whatever It Takes”

Our newest feature: the first in an occasional series of entries by CEO Bill Haines.

At Pine Island Cranberry we believe in doing what ever it takes to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. In fact, “Whatever It Takes” is one of the six core values that guide everything we do. This week three of our team demonstrated the kind of dedication it takes to put that core value into action.

The first day of harvest, our Sim Place well went out of commission when the harmonic balancer (also known as a dampener pulley) broke. It has been a dry August and September; our reservoirs are not as full as we would like. The well was crucial to flooding our Panama bogs for their first harvest. Louis Cantafio, manager of Equipment and Facilities, immediately went into action. He dispatched Ernie Waszkiewicz to remove the radiator from the engine to gain access to the balancer. In the meantime, he used every resource available to find the part. After locating one in northern New Jersey that afternoon, he made a four hour round trip to retrieve it. While waiting for Louis to return, Ernie rigged lights to make it possible to repair the engine and put everything back together after dark.

While this was going on, supervisor Matt Giberson, leader of the Blue harvest team, was successfully doing everything possible to flood the Panama bogs for picking. The team hit its target.

When Louis arrived with the balancer, he, Ernie and Matt went right to work. At 9:30 PM, I received a laconic text from Louis stating simply, “Well running”.

I am very proud of the effort, professionalism and dedication they displayed the first day of our 2013 harvest. They are perfect examples of the entire Pine Island team’s determination to do “whatever it takes” to be the best in the world at what we do. I am lucky to have such a team.