The New Jersey cranberry industry is small, but it is mighty. Welcome to the next installment of our occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers! This week, we spoke with fourth generation grower Tom Gerber of Quoexin Cranberry Company.
1. How long has your family been in the business?
I am a fourth-generation grower. My great-grandfather was Andrew Etheridge, who was the caretaker for Joseph Wharton at his Atsion farm from 1885 until his death in 1925. As the Farm Manager, he oversaw the cranberry operations at Sandy Ridge, Deep Run, Atsion Meadows, Goshen, Iron Mill, and Ancora bogs. My grandfather Julius Gerber worked for the Evans and Wills Company managing their Friendship Bog and later in 1912 switched jobs with Garfield Alloway here at the Quoexin 1 bog in Medford. My father Paul, his brother – my uncle Ross, and myself all worked for Francis Sharpless, who was an owner partner in the former Evans and Wills company. Christine Gerber and I purchased the 1000-acre property containing 60 acres of bogs in 1997, and I am still farming here today.
2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?
I very much enjoy meeting, socializing, and gathering with the many growers from all over North America! I am a big history buff and am especially interested in of all of the pioneer growers from the industry’s beginning. I pride myself most with my family’s drive and endurance to keep going every new year.
3. What has been your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge continues to be the cost of surviving these times, as well as our location in the New Jersey growing region. It’s the area where the industry began, 150 years ago. With the eastward movement of the growing area, we are the westernmost bog in the state. Being close to the Pineland towns of Medford and Marlton, we see suburban movement getting closer and closer every year. We are constantly pushing back a maturing Pinelands forest as it would love to invade the bogs. Weather is always a challenge, and have I mentioned: maple and sweet gum seedlings galore!
4. What makes your operation unique?
We are arguably one of the oldest bogs in the state, having some bogs and buildings still in use that were built about 1850 by William Braddock, who was a pioneer Medford grower. Quoexin is also a bog that Bill Haines Sr and John Lee gathered floaters from with the aid of an airboat in the early 1950s, this being a nod towards future water harvesting.
5. What’s a legendary story in your family?
My mother, Ruth Etheridge Gerber, was born and raised in Atsion Village Farm, living in the caretaker’s house of Joseph Wharton. My mom had many stories of growing up there and would tell this pinelands history to her children. One such story was about the Ryder Robbery Murder near Hampton Furnace in October of 1916. A large payroll for the Andrew Rider Hampton Bogs was the target. My mother’s Aunt Sallie and Mamie Etheridge had given the Burlington County Chief of Detectives Ellis Parker a description of suspects they saw near the Atsion store and train station hours prior to robbery murder, thus aiding in their conviction.
*Photos courtesy of Tom Gerber.
Previously: The Moore Family