Ocean Spray: From Bog to Bottle 2018

Mid-October 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 fourth visit, as well as new visitors Jeremy Mitchell (also from Advantage), Danny Seijido from the Ocean Spray sales team, and Tucker Lynn and Victor DeJesso from Wakefern.

The group gathered at our main office, where they heard a brief farm history from CEO Bill Haines, and fifth generation grower Mike Haines and his sister Stefanie took everyone out to see how we do things in the pines!

We arrived at Red Road just as our team was beginning the process of gathering a freshly picked bed, and everyone got to go up onto the bog side cleaner’s platform to get a view from the top!

Then it was off for a close up look at the Gates Harrow in action before heading down the road to the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth.

These days, all the Haines family really has to provide is a driver; George’s knowledge and enthusiasm is tremendous, and he knows every single step of our harvest. “While the calendar may say fall arrives on September 21st, it really doesn’t actually arrive until our annual trip to visit the Haines Family at PICC in mid-October,” says George. “Yet another great day with Stef and Michael Haines this year, while also getting to visit with Bill upon our arrival, as we toured the farm with our guests from Wakefern Food Corporation and our agency partners from Advantage Solutions. For four of our guests, this was their first time experiencing the beauty of the Cranberry Harvest and for me, it was another day where I get to reignite the passion for my vocation and visit with a great Ocean Spray Cooperative Family who treat me as one of her own! Never a visit without learning something new from something old as PICC is continuously improving their harvesting operations in a meaningful, efficient and positive way.”

Greg McCann always has a good time, too, and never fails to ask interesting questions! “This being my fourth year of touring your bog, I learned something new, yet again,” Greg says. “With the hot weather being late this year, it really affects the color of the cranberries, as evidenced by the mix of white, pink and red colors in the Bog! Last year, they were more crimson red, at this point in October.”

We say this every year after George and his group come to see us: it’s always 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!

Orange Team – 2018

We’re finally getting some perfect fall weather for the harvest!

What finally brought it here, unfortunately, was another bout of heavy rain, which has made managing the water tricky! But our team was up to the task, remembering always the key question: where is the water coming from, and where do we want it to go?

“It was tough,” says team leader Gerardo Ortiz. “We’ve had to drop water some places and in others we ended up flooding a little bit more than we needed. We were out here in the middle of the night making sure everything was okay. But we got it!”

So while Gerardo keeps a constant steady eye on the water, our team will pick this particular system using both the Gates Harrow and the traditional water reels.

The team will be using the water reels in the older bogs again. “A couple of these beds have some ditches in the middle for drainage, so it’s easier to use the reels than the tractor,” explains Gerardo.

Now that we have the weather we need, we’re once again looking at another “red October”!

Green Team – 2018

We’re running all three teams this week and things have been going pretty well! Our Green team has been working steadily behind the office and the new turns for the tractor trailers have been getting a workout while our crews are hauling fruit to the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth.

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, 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!

Cranberry season!

Pine Island Cranberry is about a week in to the harvest and our team is once again doing whatever it takes to get the crop safely in! We’re not quite running at full capacity every day yet, as it’s so early in the season, but all three teams have put in some work already.

“One of the first things we did this year was get the Crimson Queens off first,” says operations manager Matt Giberson. “There were some rot numbers last year that had us concerned with getting those off faster than we did last year, so we started with with all three crews. We also wanted to get the young stuff done because this early on, the canopy structure just isn’t there, so we wanted to keep our rot numbers as low as possible.” This mean that’s we’re also being a bit more lenient on color this year. “If we wait too long to increase TAcy [an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry], rot will increase too much.” COO Bryan vonHahmann created a chart to put it in better perspective: 2% rot and 20 TAcy v. 5% rot and 35 TAcy, as a comparison. “The latter means that rot percentage outweighs color, so it’s better to get color off at 20 instead of waiting for it to max out,” Matt says.

Now that the young beds are done, our harvest crews are slowing down, as we’re not finding color where we need it be. However, this weekend is supposed to be cooler, which is what we’ve been waiting for; cranberries don’t begin to attain their full color until nights become cool. “It’s still not going to be as cold as we’d like it to be,” says Matt, “but hopefully we get good color this weekend. We’ll start up all three crews again and just go for it.”

The amount of rain this year has also made a difference. The farm has received around ten inches of rain just this month alone, which is good in some ways, but also causes some difficulty. “It’s been a weird year,” Matt says. “Plenty of water for harvesting, though! Usually we have to be cautious but this year it’s much easier.” It also makes things more challenging for the equipment; we’ve finished the dam-widening project just prior to harvest, but the turnarounds for the tractor trailers still haven’t settled completely. “But now everything is tractor trailer accessible,” Matt says.


In addition to the easier accessibility, there’s good news for the fruit as well. “The Haines bed shows a lot of promise. Firmness in high 600s to 700s. There was some rot because of the canopy structure, but that’s going to happen in a young bed that’s not at full production yet, and the good fruit got good color and roundness. Beautiful fruit and hard as a rock,” Matt says. We’re hoping for great things from the Haines bed next year, and in the meantime, our crews will keep working to make this year another productive harvest!

Harvest begins! – 2018

The 2018 harvest is officially underway at Pine Island Cranberry!

We’re currently running three teams, two with the Gates Harrow and one with the traditional water reels, as there are still older beds in the center of the farm that are easier to pick using this method.

Our gathering team is working with newly updated equipment that should increase efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the dams, and the dam widening project is now complete.

Overall, our team is doing what they do best: getting the harvest in safely, and doing everything they do better every day!

Pine Island History: The Birches

Pine Island has recently bought back some of the acreage known as the Birches (originally purchased by our founder, Martin L. Haines, in the late 19th century) and this week took a tour with botanist and historian Ted Gordon to chat about the farm’s history.

According to Ted:

. . . the first cranberry bogs were set out in wilderness about five miles southeast of the Burlington County village of Tabernacle by Pemberton’s legendary pioneer grower Theodore Budd just prior to 1859. Around 1880, Budd sold these bogs and the nearby Goose Pond to Martin L. Haines of Vincentown, who set out additional bogs. . . On the sudden death of Martin in 1905, management of the Birches and its satellite holdings passed to sons Ernest M. and Ethelbert Haines. In 1920, Ernest became the sole owner and manager, while Ethelbert (Bert) presided over the company’s holdings at Hog Wallow.

“Ernest was a very good carpenter,” Ted says. “He built the house that’s still standing here as a foreman’s house originally.” There are also several buildings still in existence that were moved from other cranberry farms at Burrs Mill and Johnson Place. Ernest died in 1935 and ownership of the Birches passed to his sister, whose children and grandchildren continued to manage the farm until the death of Mary Ann Thompson in 2015.

The Birches’ centerpiece is a 120′ by 40′ cranberry sorting barn, the construction of which began more than a century ago. It is one of only three such buildings in continuous operation in the Burlington County cranberry district.

The Haines family is very pleased to return to the land that gave us our start; it’s wonderful to be able to come full circle. We have a lot of ideas for the Birches, and plan to hold steadfast to our core values while also doing its history justice. In this effort, we have a tremendous advantage: Ted Gordon’s knowledge of local history is exceeded only by his enthusiasm for it, and we are truly grateful for his willingness to share it with us!

Cleaning line!

This entry was originally posted on September 8, 2017, with a follow-up on October 6, 2017.

Last week we talked about how our team was prepping for harvest, including some equipment modifications. This week, we take a look at the changes to our cleaning facility! Up until now, our cleaning line at the packing house removes trash, debris, leaves, and so forth; however, it does not remove rotten fruit. But our Facilities team is hard at work on upgrades.

“With the standards changing in fruit quality, Ocean Spray is starting to dock growers for any rot amount greater than 20%, and we get charged the cleaning fee,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “If the rot percentage goes over 40%, they won’t even take it. We already know that that in the early years in our young beds, it’s easy to get a lot of rot because the canopy isn’t well developed. But we still get some good fruit from them. So what we decided to do was get an analysis on the good fruit from those young beds and see what they were worth. Once we did the math, we found it was a relatively short payback for us to put in brush washers to push the rotten fruit out. The blowers on the line take the leaves off and dry the fruit some, but rot still goes into the trailer. Our bog side cleaners are a definite improvement on that but even those can’t handle the high rot beds. So we modified our current facility to put in a four-roller brush system in.”

“Our goal is to keep the rot percentage as low as possible,” Bryan says. “In a bed with 25% rot, for example, we’d hope to remove 10%. If we have a bed that’s at 45, we can knock 20% out; we’d need to pay the fee but still send out the good crop. Now that we’re renovating so heavily it’s worth the investment.”

“We’re working hard to have it ready,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “The equipment arrived the second week of August, but we tried to get all the prep work done ahead of that. It’s all the same stuff they’re running up at the receiving station; so we didn’t really need to build anything new. Bryan did the research and ordered the equipment; my team found some equipment we could purchase used and save some money on the project. We started ordering materials so we could be ready to go when the equipment arrived, and we’ve been going gangbusters ever since!”

“The fruit goes through the line as usual, but then it goes into the table so that it can be spread into one layer and move through the cleaner,” explains Facilities supervisor Mike Guest. “If the berries are packed too close together it won’t work. All the rest of the work on the line are just to accommodate these additions.”

The new line will be done in plenty of time for the harvest, and we’re all looking forward to the results!

Ocean Spray Receiving Station – Chatsworth’s 30th Anniversary

This year, the Ocean Spray receiving station in Chatsworth celebrates its 30th anniversary, and several growers were on hand to celebrate with the hardworking station crew.

“We wanted to have a celebration of our 30th anniversary just before we start harvest number 31,” says manager Bob Garatino. Bob and his crew work all year to make sure that the approximately 49 days of cranberry harvest run as smoothly as possible, from start to finish, and they’ve been making a lot of improvements in the “off” season. “Two months out of the year, our goal is cleaning and sizing cranberries. The rest of the year, we make sure our bins are cleaned and prepared for the next season. And we also take a few actions. As you enter the property and look around, there’s a lot of new signage related to safety. Safety is paramount; nothing we do is so important and no service we provide is so urgent that we cannot perform our job safely. Quality is king; we do our best to judge fruit fairly and consistently, because we know that’s our job. We’re committed to keeping costs as low as we can; where we can do it ourselves we will. We also look started asking ourselves “what if”: if something comes up, how will we handle it?”

Bob also took the opportunity to thank the growers for their support. “[The growers] have been here to plow out three feet of snow, to give us valuable feedback and advice, sending us blueberries, educating us on the latest research, bringing us holiday cookies, or just working with us to work out bumps and bruises of the annual harvest.” He is also very proud of his Chatsworth team. “They take pride in their work every day.”

Communication with the growers and timing delivery truly is the key, says supervisor Alonza Williams. “Production varies; if everyone gathers at the same time it’s going to crank things up, but if one grower is harvesting a lower yield variety than what another grower might be doing it balances out.” The receiving station has 12 people on staff during the slower months, but by the time they’re in full swing that number grows to 29, and that’s when communication truly becomes essential: “We’ll stay in touch with growers for their start and end times and even Sundays, by request.” In addition to prepping the bins, Alonza’s getting the lab ready so growers can ring samples in to test for TAcy and firmness.

“The Chatsworth receiving station has always been a big benefit to the growers in New Jersey,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “It’s always been a pleasure to work with the crew there. Bob, Alonza, Mike, and the rest of the team have always been more than helpful, and we’re glad they’re part of the Ocean Spray team.”

Ted Gordon – summer 2018

This week we had the opportunity to take another ride around the property with Ted Gordon, a research specialist with more than 35 years experience in botanical studies, including contributions to major plant studies of endangered species in the Pinelands. A former Pinelands Commissioner, Ted primarily conducts rare species surveys and research, monitors habitats, and designs management plans for the conservation and enhancement of rare plants, and we are very fortunate to have access to his knowledge and experience.

Ted comes out to visit the Sim Place property every year to give suggestions on how to manage areas with certain floral species, such as when it might be time to mow or if a recent prescribed burn has had any effect. “There is a significant patch that has been visited by botanists from all over the world for nearly a century,” he says. “I’ve seen hundreds of species in there. Letting it go probably helped for a bit, but not doing anything at all encourages grasses to overwhelm flowering plants. Many rare species are still here. It’s definitely worth the effort to try and bring them back.”

This year, though, was a little different: some New Jersey Audubon staffers came along for the ride. “I was doing a presentation on the quail project and met Ted,” says John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Good stewardship practices work for species recovery for wildlife as well as plant life, so it was great to make that connection with someone who understands the native plants. It was a good mesh; this project isn’t just about the quail, it’s about how good management practices affect and impact other species as well. Ted wanted to come out to see the project and managed to time it with his annual visit to see how the native plant life is doing. The Pinelands are unique, and this is an opportunity for us to see how we can all work together.”

John took Ted and the staff out to watch Phil Coppola and Mike Adams do some telemetry and to look at the nesting areas, while Ted pointed out various plant species along the way. Ted was highly pleased to see some quail as well as how some of the plant species are doing, pointing out the high count on some rare summer species as well as the one getting ready for their autumn debut! “I find all kinds of plants growing near cultivated beds, more so than anywhere else,” he says. “Cranberry properties have the most diversity thanks to common forestry practices.”

ACGA Summer Field Day 2018

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Though Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona was sadly absent due to a conflicting academic commitment, he once again put together an excellent and informative program, and Dr. Nick Vorsa stepped in to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Justin Ross:

“I liked seeing everyone all together. Nick and Jennifer’s calcium study was interesting; that’s something to keep in mind if we were to try liquid fertilizer.”

Mike Scullion:

“My favorite parts of today’s meeting was Nick’s talk on the health benefits of cranberries and how they’re a rich source of phenolic compounds, especially the flavonoids. Also, he mentioned that they are working on a new variety of cranberry that has reduced acid levels. This will be great because you won’t need as much added sugar to make them more palatable. Exciting stuff!”

Matt Stiles:

“I thought Thierry’s talk was really interesting; he’s doing a lot of work. It’s great to have that research, especially for the young bogs, where you have to control weeds early on in order to keep them out of there. So it’s interesting to see what he’s working on and where he thinks it’s going to go. I also always like hearing the latest updates on new varieties, especially the work on fruit rot resistance.”

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It’s always nice to see all the other growers; being able to catch up with them and see if they’re seeing the same effects of the weather, how they’re handling things, get some ideas. I also liked Peter’s update; I like the direction he’s going with regard to fruit quality, seeing what hasn’t worked, taking it a step farther. if you find a way to keep scald from happening, then you take the chance, and it’s exciting to see that work being done. It was also neat to have the the drone to see how we could do it on a larger scale. It’s good that the meeting coincided with the marketing committee, too; we were all able to chat with people from different growing areas.”

Mike Haines:

“It’s cool seeing the progress on everyone’s experiments. One of my favorite talks is always hearing Nick and Jennifer talk about fruit rot resistance breeding, and getting to actually go into into the research bed and see all the trials where they’re mixing resistant low-yield varieties with Crimson Queen to see if they can get a good producer. Hand in hand with that, Jim Polashock’s talk about genomics was interesting; it’s not something I’m overly familiar with, but the way he presented I was able to follow and understand.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.