#WinThanksgiving – thanks, Ocean Spray!

This entry was originally posted on November 27, 2013 with the title “Happy Thanksgiving!”

It’s almost inevitable that a cranberry blog would do an entry about Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday which really is a chance for us here at Pine Island to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. (Sorry.) Many traditions in the Haines family come from cranberries, both our own and through the Ocean Spray cooperative. And best of all, they’re usually locally sauced! (Really sorry. We’ll stop now.) CEO Bill Haines goes out every year toward the end of harvest and hand scoops several pounds of berries for family use, using a wooden scoop that’s been in the family for generations.

Huge thanks to our friends at Ocean Spray for allowing us to use the following recipes and photographs, as well as posting the information showing us how these recipes are berry good for both you as well as the environment! (We said we were done. We lied. After all, cranberry farming can be a barrel of laughs.)

To start off, of course, you’ll want a cocktail. Vodka and cranberry is a popular combination, but did you know it actually has a name? To make a Cape Codder, you’ll just need the following:

Ingredients:

6 ounces Ocean Spray® Cranberry Juice Cocktail, chilled
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

Pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Makes 1 serving.

Of course, you can’t have a turkey without stuffing. Cape Cod Cornbread Stuffing just fits the bill:

Ingredients:

2 cups cornbread stuffing cubes
1/2 pound sausage meat, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 cup Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries
1/2 cup diced onion
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine all ingredients, except chicken broth, in a medium casserole dish. Add chicken broth; mix well. Add more chicken broth for a moister stuffing. Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until heated through. Makes 3 cups.

The following is a classic for a reason; it pairs perfectly with a leftover turkey sandwich! (Or, as some first graders we know have done…mix it with mayo and put it on a hamburger. To each her own.)

Homemade Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 12-ounce package Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, rinsed and drained

Directions:

Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.

Makes 2 1/4 cups.

This side dish doesn’t contain any cranberries, but who’s to say you couldn’t add some Craisins? [Ed. note, 11-15-2019: this recipe has been updated since this post was originally published, and the recipe now contains Craisins! We’re leaving the recipe as-is on our site, but please visit the updated link for this recipe and many more!]

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Trim stems of brussels sprouts; remove any damaged leaves.

Place brussels sprouts in 3-quart saucepan; add water to just cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer until brussels sprouts are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain; keep warm.

In the meantime, toast pecans. Place nuts in single layer on baking sheet. Bake in 350° oven 3 to 5 minutes or until light golden brown, watching carefully.

Melt butter in same saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook and stir 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Stir in brussels sprouts and pecans; toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Last but not least, we have dessert: a longtime family favorite is a cranberry nut pie that Bill’s mother used to make.

SARA’S CRANBERRY NUT PIE

Ingredients:

Filling:
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar

Topping:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract

Directions:

Mix the first three ingredients together and spread in the bottom of a greased 10 in pie plate. Mix together the last five ingredients and pour over cranberry mixture. Bake 55-60 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

No photos of that last one…it usually gets eaten too quickly. Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us to all of you!

Harvest’s end – 2019

Our team picked the final bog for 2019 yesterday, bringing this year’s harvest to a close.

It was a tough season, weather-wise, which meant we had to slow down a lot while waiting for color.

While for the most part, we relied on our bog side cleaners, we did return to the old packing house platform to maximize what fruit we could from the younger beds! We also did some experimenting to improve our equipment: “We experimented with grate spacing on the bog side cleaners to eliminate rot and trash, as well as the brush cleaner at the packing house,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann.

We made some changes to our process as well! “We also took an assembly line approach for gathering; now that we have four cleaners we were able to send a team to get the bog ready to go ahead of time, which made the cleaning go more quickly,” Bryan says. “We were able to cover a lot of acres that way.”

Bryan is already getting ready for 2020 by working on some new training procedures ahead of next year’s harvest. And in the meantime, the rest of our team is getting ready for the next big task: the winter flood!

Picking methods

In the time since we launched this site, our team has improved many of our processes in the interests of efficiency. The most visible changes, of course, have been to our harvest methods.

Since the 60s, when Bill Haines, Sr. moved entirely to water harvesting, we’ve been using the reel harvesters. Since 2014, however, as our team continues to renovate older beds to improve drainage and yield, we’ve been relying more and more on the Gates Harrow. The Gates Harrow is not as hard on the plants as the reel harvesters, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. But there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using the former method.

When it comes to picking with the reels, there’s a lot to think about; it’s not as easy as just putting the machines in the water. There’s a method to it in order to keep from damaging the fruit or the vines. The difficulty fluctuates slightly due to bog size, weeds, and terrain, as well as other variables such as water levels, crop size, and even berry variety. Some berries do not float to the surface as easily and remain under the vine canopy, which is why they stagger machines in the water in order to both maximize yield and minimize damage to the vines. 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 for maximum operational efficiency. Following this pattern allows for minimal damage to the vines. The crew leader also needs to stay ahead of his crew and check for ditches, for everyone’s safety.

The Gates Harrow is a simple machine set up to cover more ground. At the front is a rod which holds vines down to the ground; as the tractor moves forward, the berries pop off the stems and roll up over the tines on the rake. It’s not as hard on the plants as our usual method, and our renovation program is geared for increased efficiency by being user-friendly for equipment like this. It also picks a lot cleaner; it knocks almost everything off the vines. With the standard reels you’ll still find some berries left here and there. There are also some fuel savings with just one tractor running. It’s also less labor intensive; we typically run a six man picking crew and their target is about 12.5 acres per day. On a more level set of bogs, they can do more than that, but with a Gates Harrow a two-man crew can get through 40 acres. It’s a lot more efficient.

GoPro Gates Harrow from Pine Island Cranberry on Vimeo.

With the majority of our older bogs finished, we’re looking to make a strong finish with the harrows in the next week or so!

Harvest: Slowing down

The sun’s been shining (mostly!), the leaves are beginning to change, and the cooler October temperatures are finally starting to stick. But it’s not been consistent, so our team has slowed down a little bit.

The slightly warmer weather has meant that we’re not getting all the color that we want, so our team went down to one crew last week and even got a weekend off! Fortunately, this week has been an improvement.

“We were going to run three crews this week but the Stevens beds still have a higher white percentage than we want, so we decided to hold off for another week on those,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “Right now we have two crews picking about 20 acres a day, mostly the Early Blacks and the Ben Lears we have left. We’re also dealing with frost this week, and our start temperature is a bit lower because we’re trying to give them as much as they’ll take. We’re just waiting for that magic number and hoping that changes color on the Stevens underneath the vine canopy.”

Our team is looking forward to a strong finish, and in the meantime, we’ll continue to do whatever it takes to bring the fruit in!

Ocean Spray: From Bog to Bottle 2019

Harvest time also means it’s time for one of our favorite annual traditions here at Pine Island Cranberry: a visit from George Giorno of Ocean Spray on his “Bog to Bottle” tour! George comes to see us every year, along with various account executives from some of Ocean Spray’s wholesale customers. This year, we were happy to see that George brought Greg McCann of Advantage Solutions for his fifth visit, as well as Jeremy Mitchell (also from Advantage) for his second visit and Michael Janeway (Category Manager Beverage/Juice) and Stephen Fox (Category Manager Dried Fruit) from Wakefern.

CEO Bill Haines met the group upon their arrival and walked them through a brief history of the farm and some of the changes we’ve made recently, and then it was off to see our harvest crew hard at work!

We’re taking things a little slow this week as we wait for the color, so the group wasn’t able to see the harrow in action, but they did see a crew on the reel harvesters and watched from the top of the bogside cleaner as the gathering crew finished one bed and sent the truck up the road to the receiving station. They also got to see our latest renovation at different growth stages, as well as a brief discussion about our forestry project and the quail initiative.

“Even though this was my fifth trip, I always learn something new or different,” says Greg McCann. “When Bill was explaining how you renovate the bogs, and the order the plants are in, I found that quite interesting, as you now have more tech in the cranberry harvesting process! I also never realized that you had your own sand pit, for lack of a better term, and how you mine the sand and moved it around the property.”

“The annual fall pilgrimage to visit the Haines Family at Pine Island remains the best part of my work calendar each and every October and this year was no different, ” George Giorno says. “We were fortunate enough this year to have Bill, Stef, and Michael as our farm tour hosts with our guests from Wakefern Food Corporation and our agency partners from Advantage Solutions. For our Wakefern guests, Michael Janeway and Stephen Fox, this was their first time experiencing the beauty of the cranberry harvest and for me, it was yet another day where I get to share the roots to the passion I hold for our cranberry business and pride it poses in our ownership. Our guests loved the farm tour and were so grateful they got to experience a cranberry harvest. As we drove home, they were already creating a list of associates for next season who they believed should attend a harvest. As an added bonus to this trip, we were also able to learn from Bill beyond the active cranberry harvest. Bill educated us about the importance of continuously renovating the older bogs to improve fruit quality and to enable more efficient drainage and harvesting methods. We visited several renovated bogs at different stages of their 3-5 year yield curves to witness the evolution of a new bog. These trips are just fascinating and such a positive learning experience – already, I can’t wait for next year’s visit!”

For our part, it continues to be a pleasure to speak with people who are genuinely enthusiastic about what they do and are so willing to completely immerse themselves in a new experience. It‘s always fun to have George and his team here and show our customers how we really do things. It’s good for them, and it’s good for us. Thanks again, George, for everything you and your team do. We’re looking forward to seeing you again!

Pine Island History: Black Rock

This week, harvest has progressed to the bogs behind our main office: the system called Black Rock.

CEO Bill Haines is a movie buff, and named the system Black Rock back when it was first built in the mid 70s.

Back in 2012, Black Rock suffered some damage after the region caught the edge of Hurricane Isaac.

New Jersey caught the tail end of Hurricane Isaac, who brought us over eighteen inches of rains (along with funnel clouds) and left us with an enormous amount of clean-up. . . we lost twenty dams on seven major reservoirs, irrigation main lines were damaged where dams washed out, and 50% of the farm was underwater at some point. Some bogs were only under for 24 hours, some for 48, and at Sim Place, where damage was heaviest, some of the bogs were under for almost 72 hours.

In 2015, Black Rock became the next set of beds to undergo renovation, where we experimented with some new forms of erosion control and some changes to our sanding process. They were planted with Mullica Queens in the fall of 2015, which means they’re just about up to full production!

It’s been an eventful few years for Black Rock, but things are looking good!

A visit from DC

In October 2014, Pine Island had a visit from Senator Cory Booker; during that same week, our neighbors at Lee Brothers received a visit from Senator Robert Menendez. This week, a group of New Jersey cranberry growers welcomed Senator Menendez’s aide Rob Childers, who had been unable to make it the last time and has been wanting to come see us ever since!

Rob’s afternoon in cranberry country started with a video at the Lees before moving on to Pine Island, where we immediately put him to work! He was able to see both the reel harvesters and the newer Gates Harrow in action, as well as the entire gathering procedure from start to finish.

After that, he stopped by the Marucci Center for a chat with director Nick Vorsa and a tour of the greenhouses.

The final stop was a tour of the Ocean Spray receiving station.

“We would like to thank Rob on behalf of Rutgers, Ocean Spray, and the Cutts, Haines, and Lee families for making the personal effort to visit with us during cranberry harvest,” says grower Steve Lee III. “We hope the visit gave him a new perspective on the cranberry industry in the NJ Pinelands and the nationwide importance of the unique agricultural research that is conducted here.”

*Some photos provided by Steve Lee III.

Processing

The second full week of harvest is going well! Last week, manager Matt Giberson talked about how we’re testing samples before a truck goes to Ocean Spray. “If the numbers aren’t great,” he said, “we’re taking it to our own packing house and clearing it out before we send it up the road.” Here’s how that works.

Each bog is run through separately. First, the forklift crew unloads the full cranberry boxes from the trucks coming out of the field. Once the cranberries are poured into the hoppers, they pass along the belt through the blowers, which are used to partially dry the fruit and remove as many of the leaves as possible. Once the leaves are blown out, the fruit drops onto another belt and from there move up the truck elevator into the waiting trailer.

Things are a little different if our team is going straight from the bog to Chatsworth, though!

The trucks are wired to a set of lights so the gathering team leader can communicate effectively from the bog side cleaner’s platform. When one section of the trailer is full, the team leader hits a button and the yellow light in the truck cab indicates that it’s time to move forward! If the driver moves up a little too far, the team leader will use the red light indicator to tell the driver to back up.)

Once the truck is full (whether it’s cleaned with the bogside cleaner or at our own packing house), it’s time to head down the road!

Once the driver gets to the receiving station, he drives to the scales, where he turns in the paperwork and Ocean Spray takes some initial samples.

He is assigned a pool number, then drives around back and backs up to the assigned pool.

The crew at the station then start running the equipment needed to clear the berries from the trailer and take additional samples as needed.

When the truck is empty, it’s back around to the scales to be weighed again, and off again home to pick up another load!

The 2019 harvest begins!

Our busiest season has finally begun! Our harvest crews started picking at the southern end of the home farm and out at Sim Place this week.

“We started out at High Bridge because those are now the oldest beds planted with early-season varieties,” says CEO Bill Haines. “These bogs in particular are planted with Crimson Queen, which are our earliest variety. We like to plant those furthest from the center of the farm. As we finish picking beds we’re working our way closer and closer to home. It means we don’t have to travel as much for frost, among other things.” Conditions have been pretty favorable as well, he says. “The water level is good. And it hasn’t been too hot, either. We even had frost last night, which will help us with color.”

As of right now, we’re only running two crews, but expect that to change shortly. “We’re also picking the young bed at Osborne Spung for first time, which have been planted in Mullica Queen,” Bill says. “This will be our first significant harvest for that particular variety.”

Our team has had to make some adjustments to their approach, as they do every year. “Some of the regulations have changed with Ocean Spray on rot percentage and color,” says manager Matt Giberson. “Which means we need to keep an eye on things. When you’re driving by a bed it looks red enough on top but under the canopy it’s white, so we have to manage that. And rot tends to be high in the young beds before a canopy is fully established, so we’re testing samples before it goes to Ocean Spray. If the numbers aren’t great, we’re taking it to our own packing house and clearing it out before we send it up the road.” Matt also notes the optimal conditions this week. “We have plenty of water, but it has been a little dry. We’re starting wells now in order to be prepared in case it remains dry; we haven’t needed to in a long time so it’s good to have them ready anyhow.”

In general, the color is looking really good this year, he says. “Better than it was at this time last year. The TAcy seems really good for the Crimsons. We’re starting our third crew this weekend. The lake’s done, we’ll have Panama done Tuesday, then we’ll finish getting the early stuff from Sim Place. We’ll get the Ben Lears out, go down through Worth Tract, and pick all the young beds.”

If Matt had just one wish for the upcoming season? “We could use just a half inch of rain. Just a little bit! But I think it’s going to be steady as she goes. We got frost a little early this year, but that should help with the color. When we don’t have to chase the color, it all goes a little bit easier.”

Pine Island History: Bog names

While Ocean Spray knows our bogs by number for record-keeping purposes, our team at Pine Island mostly knows them by their names. We’ve mentioned some of them in passing, particularly with our posts on bog renovation, but with one minor exception, we haven’t gone into much detail about the story behind them.

Some bogs, of course, are named after family. There’s Billy, for CEO Bill Haines, Jr., and Holly, for his sister, who is also our previous CFO.

We also have Nadine, a set of five high-production bogs built in the late 80s in a former blueberry field and named for Bill’s wife. Not too far from our office are Stef, Becky, and Tug (also known as the SBT bogs), named after Bill’s three oldest children. We can’t speak for Bill and Holly and their own namesakes, but this blogger can reliably report that every year at harvest time, Stef, Becca, and Tug have a (mostly) friendly rivalry over whose bog is the highest producer. (Nadine stays out of it entirely, as she always wins!)

We also have bogs named for former team members and residents. The best recognized is probably Fred Brown, a section consisting of four bogs located near Brown’s former home on the property. Fred is, of course, most well-known to readers of The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee, and was a highly colorful character, to put it mildly. From the first chapter:

“I don’t know what’s the matter with me, but there’s got to be something the matter with me, because drink don’t agree with me anymore,” he said. He had a raw onion in one hand, and while he talked heshaved slices from the onion and ate them between bites of the chop. He was a muscular and well-built man, with short, bristly white hair, and he had bright, fast-moving eyes in a wide-open face. His legs were trim and strong, with large muscles in the calves. I guessed that he was about sixty, and for a man of sixty he seemed to be in remarkably good shape. He was actually seventy-nine. “My rule is: Never eat except when you’re hungry,” he said, and he ate another slice of the onion.

It’s not possible to improve on McPhee’s prose; if you haven’t read The Pine Barrens yet, it’s a fantastic book. You’ll come away from it wondering why the only thing we named after Fred is a cranberry bog. But cranberries are a perennial fruit; much like McPhee’s evocative writing, those vines will still be here as a memorial and a testament to our own history as well as that of the pines and its residents.