MFS Intensive Learning 2019 – Pine Barrens Experience

Two weeks ago Pine Island was pleased to once again host 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 morning started off with a brief history of the farm and the family before team members Matt Giberson and fifth generation grower Mike Haines gave the group a talk about a year on the farm.

Then it was time for a walk! Matt and Mike took the group over to one of our young beds, whwere we’ve removed the winter flood. This was a great chance for the group to actually get their feet in a bog and see up close how cranberry vines grow.

There was even a little bit of time to take a tour of our shop and check out some of our equipment!

“I like talking to this group every year,” Matt says. “It was a good opportunity for them to come out and see what we do, because how a cranberry farm works is a new experience for them. I think they enjoyed the equipment aspect a lot. It’s a shame that they can’t be here a little later when things are growing and it’s a little more interesting, but it’s a chance to see something that not a lot of people get to see in the off-season, and that’s just as important.”

Penn State Forest Fire

You may have heard that there was a bit of trouble in Penn State Forest last weekend. From the Asbury Park Press:

Firefighters with the state forest fire service worked tirelessly over the weekend to contain the 11,600-acre wildfire that’s been burning in the Pine Barrens since Saturday afternoon.

The raging fire spared homes and structures, but left 18 square miles of the Penn State Forest in Burlington County with less than 30 percent of its vegetation, according to Michael Achey, a warden with the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service.

The local community, of course, turned out in force, as they always do. Pine Island’s own facilities manager Louis Cantafio was on the scene for at least sixteen hours straight. “It was big. It really wanted to get across Route 72,” he says. “One of the best things, though, is you get there and there’s a whole bunch of cranberry growers: you’ve got your Sammy Moores, your Ben Bricks, your Tom Gerbers. A good portion of it was on the farm. The blueberry field on 72, the clear-cut on Red Road. . . we saved everything, which is what the forest fire service does. 15 miles of perimeter, interior, counter-firing. We were out there 16 hours; couldn’t leave until it was all fired in. Bill DeGroff and Tom Gerber were on the backfire side of the wildfire, and that all had to be finished. It really was a lot of work.”

“One of the most positive things about this weekend for me was watching the crew cohesion,” says Shawn Judy, Assistant Division Firewarden. “These men and women quickly responded to the scene, developed a plan, organized resources, contained the fire, and protected lives and valuable property without any injuries. There were many moving parts from multiple agencies involved with this incident. All of the pre-planning and relationships developed over the years by the Forest Fire Service paid off big time!”

“I can’t say enough good things about the forest fire service; they always do a good job,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “They work with us throughout the year, keeping us informed; in the past, they’ve helped us with controlled burns. This weekend, they did a great job protecting our forestry project and our blueberry fields. It’s really nice to have people who know what they’re doing providing that kind of service.”

Pine Island Cranberry would like to thank Shawn Judy, Gregory McLaughlin, Rusty Fenton, Jeremy Webber, Robby Gill, Gary Burton, Howard Somes, John Winberg, Salvatore Cicco, David Dorworth, Michel Achey, John Reith, Cindy Vallorio, Clifford Parker, Brian Christopher, Tom Gerber, Ben Brick, Trevor Raynor, Donald Knauer, John Earlin, Brian Corvinus, Dale Carrey, William Jubert, Bill Hamilton, Robert Stack, John Earlin Jr., Tyler Robinson, Walter Jones, Eugene Zazenski, William DeGroff, Chad Bozowski, Charles Poinsett, Roger Poinsett, Gary Poinsett, Alfred Sloan, Nate Pepper, Michael Haines, Doug Cutts, Eddy Carter, Marie Cook, BJ Sloan, Kenny Sloan, Sammy Moore III, Louis Cantafio, Dave Potowski, Brian Jones, Mike Gallagher, Rodney Haines, Chris Mathis, Walter Johnson, John Headly, Daniel Collamer, Craig Augustoni, Walt Earlin, David Achey, William Donnelly (and many more!) for all of their hard work protecting our community.

Meet Our Neighbors: The Lee Family

Last week, we celebrated seven years of bringing you our story online. This week, we thought it was time to hear directly from some of our friends in the industry. Welcome to our inaugural post in what will be an occasional series about some of our fellow New Jersey cranberry growers!

For this first post, we spoke with our longtime friends and neighbors to the north, the Lee family! Steve Lee IV, the sixth generation of the Lee family to take an active interest in his family farm, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

1. How long has your family been in the business?

The Lee Family has been farming in Speedwell since 1868. Lee Brothers, Inc. which is part of the Ocean Spray Grower-Owned Cooperative has been in continuous operation since 1949. Integrity Propagation, the cranberry industry’s first foundation-level nursery has been in operation since 2008. Currently the 5th, 6th and the 7th generations of the Lee Family are living and working on the cranberry production or greenhouse operation which encompasses Washington, Woodland and Tabernacle Townships.

2. What’s your favorite aspect of cranberry farming?

The harvest season is by far the most special time of year for our family. When the crop is good, the harvest season can be very rewarding. When crops are not as strong as expected, harvest is more of a time to reflect on the decisions made during the past growing season and begin to create the playbook for the upcoming growing season. Either way, harvest is special because we celebrate our heritage and share it with visitors that want to experience the season and be “part of the crew”.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

Challenges? What challenges? Keeping governmental regulations under control is by far the biggest issue. Collectively, our industry works on developing and nurturing our relationships with lawmakers to help with ever-increasing regulatory, manufacturing and horticultural challenges. Managing these relationships can sometimes be very time consuming.

4. What makes your operation unique?

For the most part, we all get along. Not all farm-families do, which could sometimes certainly be a problem. Historically, we have an outside-the-box approach to innovations that are geared towards improving overall operational efficiency and agricultural production. Many of the innovations developed here have become standard throughout the industry including but not limited to the ride-on harvester and fertilizer/spray buggy. Several members of our family have served and continue to serve in leadership positions in a variety of areas including government, associations, civic, religious, banking, and agricultural. We are also so fortunate to have enjoyed multiple generations of our family working together, and employees that have become part of our extended family. We are also very unique in having such a great relationship with our neighbors, the Haines Family.

5. What’s a legendary story in your family?

As with any farm family, we have many family stories. Some of the stories involving each of the generations of the Lee and Haines families are legendary, but probably not suitable for print. We are very fortunate to be part of a cooperative that truly is a multi-generational extended family. That was most evident on Labor Day 2012, when we were hit with about 13” of rain in roughly a 6 hour period. Although it rained throughout South Jersey, the hardest hit area was right here in Chatsworth, Speedwell, Hog Wallow and Pineworth. Once word began to get our on how much rain we had, support came in the way of equipment, manpower, food and phone calls to “check on us” and offer “anything we needed”. Certainly, the outpouring of concerns and support we received was not concentrated to that day or even that instance, but it clearly demonstrates the love, passion, support, and cooperation of the cranberry industry here in New Jersey.

The Lees are fantastic neighbors and even better friends, and we’re glad to have such good people in our community!

*Photo courtesy Steve Lee IV.

Blog anniversary 2019

This weeks marks the seven year anniversary of the Pine Island Cranberry website, and as always, we’ve had quite an eventful year!

The annual harvest remains our biggest draw for readers, of course, and this year saw not only our annual visit from George Giorno and his Bog to Bottle tour, but our own visit to the Ocean Spray receiving station!

The receiving station, coincidentally, celebrated its 30th anniversary this past year, and Pine Island team members were there to celebrate with them.

Team members were also in attendance at both the ACGA summer field day and winter meeting, as well as at the Ocean Spray Annual Growers Meeting.

We also profiled several team members over the past year. Both Jeremy Fenstermaker and Ernie Waszkiewicz both celebrated milestone work anniversaries, and we also talked up newer team member Justin Ross.

The bobwhite quail project continued with another release last April.

The Haines family also had quite a year! Not only did they once again start farming the original property at the Birches, originally purchased after the Civil War by Martin L. Haines, they welcomed sixth generation member Jack Fenstermaker to the world of cranberry growing with his very first summer job. In November, they gained a brand new member of the family when Mike Haines married the lovely Daina!

Pine Island also got some media coverage, as most operations do every year around harvest time. This year, the quail project was covered locally, while the harvest was covered by both NBC 10 and Business Insider. But the seemingly unanimous favorite this year goes to this fun piece about CEO Bill Haines, accompanied by a fantastic video.

And, of course, our entire team remains proud to be members of the Ocean Spray family.

We look forward to everything the next year has in store for us, and we’re so glad you’re all here to read about it as well!

Winter’s end

Our March tasks remain much the same as they did in February, right down to working around the inconsistent weather!

When a winter storm is expected, the number one priority is checking the water. The team checks for washouts, makes sure nothing’s too high or too low, and makes sure there’s no water on the dam itself. Team members make sure the main pathways are cleared; in order to do that, we send the front loaders home with some of them, which means once the snow hits, they can plow themselves out and start clearing the main dams. Then the rest of the team are able to go check the water or get to one of our facilities to do indoor work. Fortunately, we haven’t had high snow accumulation this year!

While the snow has been melting quickly, the frequent rains interspersed with low temperatures have been a persistent challenge all winter for our team.

We are continuing to run at least two sanding teams, weather permitting, as well as working on survey lines and our ongoing current bog renovation project.

While there was some concern last month that our team would not be able to do any prescribed burning, we did end up with enough clear, dry days that we were able to get a little done here and there.

When the weather isn’t coperating, the team continues to keep busy on several indoor tasks!

Installing gates

This entry was originally posted on January 16, 2015.

Renovation on some of the bogs in the Black Rock system is going well! Last week we spoke briefly again about Pine Island’s #1 question: “where is the water coming from, and where do we want it to go?” This week, our team addressed that question by starting the removal of wooden floodgates and replacing them with our newer PVC gate design.

Longtime team member Wilfredo Pagan (35 years!) is in charge of this operation, which is going very smoothly considering the unexpected weather. “Pipe gates are better,” he says. “They’re easier to install, and they last longer, too.” First, though, he has to set up the laser level in order to make sure the gate is set up correctly. The team will be able to put the new gate in at the same depth as the old one. This is where they have to be careful; if it’s not even the two parts of the new gate can shift over time since they’re not one solid piece of pipe. “Once you put them together, the only thing holding them is dirt and pressure,” Wilfredo says. “If you have a situation where the canal is deeper than the ditch, you have to measure at the top of the dam and set it so the uprights are level with it. If the canal is lower than bog and you don’t adjust for it, it can wash out underneath.”

In the meantime, Junior Colon has been on the excavator making sure the water’s been blocked off in both the canal and the ditches. “Once that’s blocked off, we can start digging,” he says.

After the water is stopped, it’s time to start digging up the dam. “We go right down to the top of the boards on the old gate,” says Junior, “and then we have to continue to dig behind it to get the turf out and make sure the water’s all gone.”

Once the excavator clears out the dirt around the old gate, it’s time to lift each side one at a time to put the chains on for easier lifting.

The old gate then gets lifted onto a waiting tractor and hauled away.

Once the new gate is installed, the team will fill the dirt back and then haul in turf to patch the sides before crowning the dam and moving on to the next gate!

Habitat maintenance

Pine Island Cranberry has been a long-time proponent of prescribed burning and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.”

One species who relies on critical forest maintenance is, of course, the bob white quail. According to the latest from New Jersey Audubon:

The use of prescribed burning on the landscape helps remove built up thatch, dead leaves, twigs, and accumulated plant and organic materials that can impede quail and wildlife movement. Prescribed burning also helps to increase the growth of new and existing plants, which can provide an important food source for wildlife in the form of seeds and insects that the plants may host or provide pollen for. This restoration action of performing prescribed burning is essential to the habitat needs of Northern Bobwhite, ensuring Bobwhite have enough resources come spring and the breeding season. Prescribed burning also helps many other wildlife species of the Pinelands that evolved in this disturbance and fire dependent landscape.

The article goes on to say:

Following this year’s prescribed burn at the Northern Bobwhite study site, NJ Audubon staff were on site and tracked, via telemetry, 12 radio-collared Northern Bobwhite adults, along with 20-25 juvenile birds that revealed themselves to be with the radio-collared quail. As found in previous years of the study, after burning, the birds move into denser cover along the edges of the burn areas.

“Restoration is continual,” said NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Project Director John Parke. “People often forget that you have to maintain an ecosystem, and think in the ‘long term’, and sometimes perform activities that may seem counterproductive in order to have the natural systems function properly for future generations. In a state like New Jersey that has significant pressures placed on an already limited land base it is important to realize that ‘restoration’ is not just a one or two time action, it is a series of science-based actions over a sustained period of time.”

Here comes the rain again . . .

The weather continues to be a challenge for our team this winter!

“The past year we’ve gotten about 70 to 75 inches of rain,” says manager Matt Giberson. “It just hasn’t let up; everything’s saturated.” This means that everything’s been a struggle: maintaining equipment, fixing dam erosion, and hitting this year’s sanding targets. “If it’s not raining, we’re getting snow. We get a freeze, then it thaws, then it freezes again; it’s extremely frustrating trying to get a rhythm going. We’ll get two good weeks and get a good chunk of it done, then things freeze up and we can only manage a day here, two days there.” If the weather remained consistently we could try ice sanding, but the frequent temperature changes make that difficult.

The heavy rains this winter have also called a halt to other late-season tasks. “It’s too wet to do any prescribed burning,” Matt says. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to do any this year.” The ground saturation is also causing issues for our or survey lines: “There are certain areas the guys can’t get through; nothing’s frozen over long enough that we feel comfortable sending someone out to work on them.”

In the meantime, the team continues to focus on indoor work! “The biggest thing right now is making gates! We’ve created an assembly line with six guys, and they’re making five gates per day right now; our goal is to try to get to six if we can work out a more efficient process. We’ve made all the sprinklers, but that’s part of regular irrigation maintenance that we do every year; the focus is to recycle and reuse as we need it for emergencies or repairs for spring.”

“The weather is the weather, but it’s still not fun. Two or three inches of rain at a shot, twice a week is a lot of deal with,” Matt says. Here’s hoping for a drier spring! And in the meantime, our team will keep doing whatever it takes to work with Mother Nature.

Ocean Spray AGM 2019

Ocean Spray has once again held its annual meeting over Super Bowl weekend, albeit with a much more boring game this time.

REMEMBER WHEN?

Every year the AGM is an opportunity to sit down and catch up with growers from other regions to exchange stories and ideas and hear how the industry as a whole is faring. This year the growers also had opportunities to taste new products that have yet to be introduced to the public as well as a visit to the plant in Henderson, Nevada, with Pine Island manager Mike Haines coming away particularly impressed with the plant and their team.

Pine Island CEO Bill Haines came away with a good feeling about Ocean Spray’s direction.

“While there’s a lot of work to do, the atmosphere among the growers attending the meeting was positive,” Bill says. “We’re happy to see the energy and talent of Bobby’s new team: the reinvesting in renovation, reaching out to younger consumers, and positioning Ocean Spray for solid growth in the future.”

Sanding changes

Our first core value at Pine Island Cranberry is “get better”: doing everything we do better every day. Part of that is not doing things the way we’ve always done just because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Our annual sanding project is moving right along, and while the process remains approximately the same, we’re always adjusting the details with an eye to future production.

“We’re actually continuing the process that we did last year,” says manager Mike Haines. “For the past several years we’d moved from sanding one inch to a half-inch, then went back a couple of years ago to to doing an inch on established beds while continuing to do a half-inch on new beds. It can be kind of hard to tell at the end of the first year if there’s a difference, so we keep an eye on it and see if there are any changes in production as well as how healthy the bogs look, and we experimented with a couple of beds at Centennial again in order to make a comparison.”

There are other factors at play as well, Mike says: “When you make sanding changes you need to make changes elsewhere, too, especially with fertilizer. It’ll be interesting to see how this looks once the new beds get to full production. But in the meantime we’re going to keep making decisions based on results rather than following the rule of thumb just for the sake of it.”

We’ve also made some equipment changes! We have new sanders that are slightly bigger and cover more ground more quickly. When the weather is cooperative, we can run three sanding teams and get a lot done. It might take a couple of years to see results, and the best proof will be in the production!