When most people think about cranberry farmers, they think of people dressed in chest waders, standing in a bog with berries floating around them.
But that picture doesn’t quite fit Grayland’s group of cranberry farmers, most of whom practice dry harvesting. The berries are grown in fields and harvested with a contraption about the size of a lawnmower.
Farmers are currently in the middle of their harvesting season, which lasts from late September through October, and locals are celebrating the season with the 20th-annual Cranberry Harvest Festival.
Claire Conlan, an event organizer, isn’t a cranberry farmer, but she’s learned a lot about the trade living in Grayland for 25 years. She’s responsible for acquiring the fresh berries sold at the event.
“I basically drive around and beg for boxes of berries,” Conlan said. “Our growers are so nice and supportive. A lot of the farms are family-run, and they’re really supportive of this tradition.”
Most of the area’s cranberries are grown on small farms, averaging about 11 acres. Some of the farms are much larger, with 50 acres of growing space. Conlan said local growers have had a hard time making ends meet lately, with the cost of berries dropping.
“Thankfully things have gotten a little better,” Conlan said. “For a while, it cost more to grow a berry than the price you’d get. A few people lost their farms.”
But besides a few price fluctuations, the practice of cranberry farming hasn’t changed much since Aberdeen’s founder Samuel Benn planted the area’s first cranberry bog in 1912. For a while, harvesters used a wooden hand scoop to collect the berries.
In the 1930s, Grayland resident Julius Furford developed the Furford Picker Pruner, which loosens the berries from their vines and deposits them in a bag — much like a lawnmower bag collects grass clippings. His unique invention is still widely used. In 1990, Ocean Spray announced a nation-wide contest to improve Furford’s machine, with $250,000 as the prize. No one has been able to improve the Furford Picker Pruner.
On Saturday, event attendees toured working cranberry farms and organizers judged the cranberry cook-off. The event also featured a firefly parade on State Route 105.
The festival continues today, featuring several events. Registration for the Jog the Bog and Beach fun run and walk begins at 7 a.m. and the event begins at 9 a.m. The cranberry market place will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Musicians will perform on indor and outdoor stages throughout the event. A raw cranberry eating contest will take place at 1 p.m.