Liv­ing the ‘Cran­berry Way’

Har­vest­time means fam­ily time for these Wis­con­sin sib­lings.

Farm & Ranch Living - - CONTENTS - Story by Sandy Pot­ter Nemitz and David Pot­ter PHO­TOS BY JIM WIELAND War­rens, Wis­con­sin

Har­vest­time means fam­ily time for these Wis­con­sin sib­lings.

We are a brotherand-sis­ter team con­tin­u­ing the fam­ily legacy of grow­ing cran­ber­ries. I’m Sandy, and my brother David and I grew up on the fam­ily marsh, learn­ing and liv­ing the “cran­berry way.” Now we are sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion cran­berry grow­ers in Wis­con­sin, the coun­try’s top cran­berry-pro­duc­ing state. We Pot­ters are the long­est con­tin­u­ous line of cran­berry grow­ers in the state. Our fam­ily’s marsh, the James Pot­ter Cran­berry Marsh, is in War­rens. David and his wife, Jamie, live next door with their chil­dren, Bray­dan and Brielle. My hus­band, Adam Nemitz, and I live with daugh­ters Myla and Ada on a marsh that Adam’s fam­ily owns. Both of us work full time for our dad, Todd Pot­ter. Dad and his mother, June Pot­ter, spend a lot of time teach­ing us as many skills as they can. We of­ten laugh be­cause any time Dad steps in to help, he makes it look so easy. David man­ages the marshes, and I man­age the busi­ness end of things. We are both down in the cran­berry beds daily, how­ever, get­ting our hands dirty and learn­ing new skills. As the sea­sons change, so do our job de­scrip­tions. Win­ter months are spent main­tain­ing equip­ment and ren­o­vat­ing and sand­ing the beds. Spring is all about ir­ri­gation, frost watches, and gear­ing up for cran­berry blos­soms and bees. Sum­mer is packed with ir­ri­gat­ing, fer­til­iz­ing, spray­ing and mow­ing. Fall means har­vest. There is noth­ing we an­tic­i­pate more than get­ting our 210 acres of cran­ber­ries har­vested. We take a great deal of pride in our work and in watch­ing our marsh and fam­ily grow from year to year. Our par­ents and grand­par­ents put their hearts into the fam­ily busi­ness, and we want to see the James Pot­ter Cran­berry Marsh handed down to our chil­dren some­day.

Head­ing into Har­vest

Oct. 1 Sandy: Oc­to­ber al­ways means cran­berry har­vest in our fam­ily. To­day is Sun­day, how­ever, so we pushed off har­vest­ing chores un­til to­mor­row. In­stead, I took the girls to Myla’s first ice-skat­ing les­son. When you grow up on a cran­berry marsh, you get lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties to skate. In late De­cem­ber we flood the cran­berry beds to build an ice layer thick enough to pro­tect the vines from the harsh win­ter cold. As kids, we al­ways took ad­van­tage of that ice by skat­ing. I hope our girls en­joy this ac­tiv­ity as much as I did. Oct. 2 Sandy: We re­cently ac­quired a smaller 21-acre marsh. We started har­vest­ing that to­day, hop­ing to com­plete this work be­fore we start the “big har­vest” at our home marsh. We placed two blower trac­tors on both sides of the flooded bed, con­nected them with a bright yel­low in­flat­able boom and pulled the cran­ber­ries to the berry pump. We use broad rakes to fin­ish that task, which is la­bor-in­ten­sive. (To stay rel­a­tively dry, we wear the same kind of hip waders you see in Ocean Spray tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials.) The pump sucks the cran­ber­ries up to an el­e­va­tor that places them in a semi­trailer to be trans­ported to our re­ceiv­ing sta­tion. We could have fin­ished to­day if there had been enough wa­ter on the beds. In­stead, there’s one bed left to go. Oct. 3 David: The crew went to the smaller marsh to fin­ish har­vest­ing the last bed. I stayed back to put wa­ter on beds 1 and 2. By the time I got back to the home marsh, its beds were ready to be stripped. I drove the har­row through to re­move the cran­ber­ries from the vines. Then Sandy, Rachel Jensen and I pulled ris­ers (pipes with sprin­kler heads) out of the beds in 27 acres of cran­ber­ries. I started the lift pump to flood the marsh, a process that will take two days to com­plete. At 8 p.m. I shut the wa­ter off for the night. Oct. 4 David: I started the lift pump to send more wa­ter onto the 27 acres we will har­vest next. I then jumped on the Kub­ota trac­tor and be­gan un­spool­ing boom into bed No. 2. The in­flat­able boom sec­tions off ar­eas ready to be har­vested. Sandy and Rachel worked to­gether to tighten the boom

and pull cran­ber­ries to the bed’s north­west cor­ner. I started pump­ing berries while they cor­ralled them on the next bed. We har­vested 3,500 bar­rels of cran­ber­ries by the time we were fin­ished. Oct. 5 Sandy: I was taken aback when I learned that two of the four peo­ple I hired to help with to­day’s har­vest didn’t show up. But thank­fully, the two peo­ple who did show up had ex­pe­ri­ence and were will­ing to work just as hard as the rest of us. The weather was good, noth­ing broke down, and we har­vested our daily quota of cran­ber­ries. All in all, it was a great day. Oct. 6 Sandy: We got in some good ex­er­cise this morn­ing by pulling pipes out of the beds. Many peo­ple dread this job be­cause it takes so much phys­i­cal ef­fort. I don’t mind the work, though. I en­joy the fact that once this pipe is out, we are that much closer to har­vest­ing cran­ber­ries. Plus, we won’t need to frost watch those beds. We have to be ready to leap into ac­tion if alarms go off dur­ing the spring and fall, when the tem­per­a­ture dips be­low 32 de­grees. When the alarms sound, we flood the beds so blos­soms and cran­ber­ries are pro­tected from frost dam­age by a layer of ice. I spent most of my day work­ing at the berry pump with David. Af­ter lunch, I moved ramps for Dad while he har­rowed. The har­row can go only one di­rec­tion up or down the bed; oth­er­wise it will ruin the cran­berry vines. So we used a trac­tor to place ramps on each end, and move them as the har­row makes its way through the bed. Oct. 7 David: The roads were re­ally muddy to­day thanks to con­stant rain, so our semi­trail­ers got stuck through­out the day. We kept tow­ing equip­ment on hand to pull ve­hi­cles out of the muddy ter­rain. Even with all the rain, we fin­ished har­vest­ing all five beds by the end the day. So, ev­ery­one gets the day off to­mor­row ex­cept for Sandy and me.

Pulling Pipe, Pump­ing Berries

Oct. 8 David: Af­ter flood­ing five more sec­tions of cran­berry beds, I started strip­ping berries. I was able to do two beds on my own be­cause we had in­stalled drive-in ramps on two ends

of each bed. Sandy and I fin­ished har­row­ing all five sec­tions by 2:30 p.m. She drove a trailer to box scrape, or smooth out, the roads that got torn up yes­ter­day from all the rain. Oct. 9 Sandy: We pulled pipe again this morn­ing be­cause it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to freeze tonight. We wanted to get proper wa­ter cov­er­age over the cran­ber­ries; one bad freeze could ruin an en­tire crop. Oct. 10 David: With seven peo­ple pulling pipe on the five larger beds, we fin­ished by 9:30 a.m. We then be­gan pick­ing up berries on bed No. 14. The trucks had to back down long, nar­row dikes—the roads that sep­a­rate beds—to be loaded. The dikes quickly be­came muddy, which meant we had to pull stuck-in-mud semi­trail­ers in and out of po­si­tion with a loader. But the re­main­der of the day’s har­vest went smoothly. Af­ter an early din­ner, I re­turned to help a co-worker pull the re­main­ing pipe off the marsh. Since this was the last line of ir­ri­gation on the home marsh, be­ing done meant no more frost watch for me un­til next spring! Oct. 11 Sandy: All of us feel ex­hausted af­ter 10 straight days of har­vest­ing. To­day I moved ramps so Dad could har­row, then I helped David, Ja­son Dono­van and Joe Smug­den at the berry pump. The four of us re­ally have a good rou­tine go­ing now. We all know our jobs and share the goal of get­ting all the cran­ber­ries out of each bed as quickly and ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble. Oct. 12 David: An arm broke to­day on Rachel’s blower trac­tor. I welded a piece of an­gle iron to it, hop­ing the quick fix will get us through har­vest. I’ll re­pair it prop­erly when we have down­time later on. By 8:30 a.m. the crew and I were pump­ing, Dad was har­row­ing and Sandy was mov­ing ramps. Bed No. 11 de­liv­ered 465 bar­rels to the acre. An ex­cel­lent crop! Oct. 13 Sandy: The crew and I don’t want to work on Satur­day, so we were on a mis­sion to get done har­vest­ing the home marsh to­day. We hur­ried and fin­ished only an hour af­ter our nor­mal quit­ting time. It was pour­ing rain and muddy, but we did it!

Meet­ing Our Quota

Oct. 15 Sandy: Af­ter lunch, Adam asked me to move ramps so he could har­row. He has been re­ally busy with his fam­ily’s cran­berry marsh as well as the marsh that he and I own. So I jumped right in to help him get the job done. Oct. 16 David: We moved har­vest equip­ment to Spring Val­ley to be­gin pick­ing up cran­ber­ries there. We met our quota plus one ex­tra truck­load by 4:25 p.m. Oct. 17 Sandy: Since the blower trac­tors still had half a bed’s worth of berries to pull down with the boom, we man­u­ally pulled the cran­ber­ries into the pump. We were re­minded how nice it is that trac­tors nor­mally do this job for us. Oct. 18 Sandy: To­day was great! The weather was beau­ti­ful and things moved along nicely. We knew our re­ceiv­ing sta­tion would be at max ca­pac­ity to­day—which meant we couldn’t send in any more berries than we had agreed to pro­vide. We met our daily quota and filled three ad­di­tional semi­trail­ers with cran­ber­ries. Those trail­ers will wait un­til morn­ing to be sent to the re­ceiv­ing sta­tion. If all goes well, we should fin­ish by noon to­mor­row. Oct. 20 Sandy: To­day it felt as if my life was get­ting back to nor­mal, de­spite the fact that 16 acres of late-har­vest cran­ber­ries are still wait­ing for us. Af­ter run­ning to the ap­ple or­chard for cider and ap­ples, Myla and I hur­ried home so I could do the book­keep­ing for six marshes plus a re­lated busi­ness. I couldn’t be­lieve how many phone calls I had to make! Oct. 21 Sandy: Since this was my first real day off in more than a month, I took the girls to Wis­con­sin Dells to play at the tram­po­line park. We ate lunch at a restau­rant where the food is de­liv­ered to the ta­ble by a toy train. The girls got a kick out of that!

Pre­par­ing for Win­ter

Oct. 23 David: I pulled our small bull­dozer up to the shop to be washed and re­paired. We re­placed old and worn-out rails and fi­nal drive sprocket seg­ments with new ones. It took me all day to un­screw the ma­chine’s 328 bolts and re­move the 82 pads. Oct. 24 David: Ja­son, Rachel and Sandy got our three earth-mov­ing haul trucks ready to ren­o­vate the beds this win­ter. We’ll also use an ex­ca­va­tor to dig out old cran­berry vines. Once the beds are cov­ered with enough ice to sup­port heavy equip­ment, we’ll dump on sand hauled out of the reser­voir. When the ice melts the fol­low­ing spring, the sand will fall and re­plen­ish the soil at the bot­tom of the beds. Oct. 25 Sandy: Af­ter lunch, David, Rachel and I con­nected all the sec­tions of pipe that we pulled from beds. That pre­vents mice from mak­ing nests in­side the pipes, which plugs sprin­kler noz­zles come spring. No one re­ally en­joys this job

be­cause it’s time-con­sum­ing and in­volves re­peat­edly bend­ing down and stand­ing up. Oct. 26 David: We be­gan pulling pipe on the last 16 acres of cran­ber­ries left to har­vest at our Spring Val­ley marsh. Later, Rachel and Ja­son worked on an ex­ca­va­tor at the home marsh while Sandy and I fin­ished putting pipe to­gether. We also hauled pipe away from beds that will be torn up this win­ter. Oct. 27 David: Dean Grif­fin and I fin­ished strip­ping beds at the Spring Val­ley marsh by 11 a.m. We parked the berry pump in his shop for the week­end so I didn’t have to drain the hoses. Tem­per­a­tures are pre­dicted to be be­low freez­ing all week­end. Oct. 28 Sandy: It was Adam’s first real day off in months, and we told him he could do what­ever he wanted to do to­day. So he bought some salt and min­eral blocks for the deer and put deer cam­eras out in the woods in prepa­ra­tion for ri­fle-hunt­ing sea­son. David said he’s go­ing to spend the en­tire week­end with Jamie and his kids. Oct. 30 Sandy: We fin­ished our last stretch of har­vest to­day. I don’t think the tem­per­a­ture ever got above 38 de­grees. We even had a snow and sleet storm. We will do our cleanup to­mor­row, but for now, we can re­lax be­cause all the cran­ber­ries have been sent away. Adam and I made our fa­vorite cran­berry rel­ish tonight from a recipe his mom gave us. The girls helped by sort­ing cran­ber­ries and peel­ing or­anges. They also kept sneak­ing their fa­vorite in­gre­di­ent: minia­ture marsh­mal­lows. Oct. 31 Sandy: My girls woke up to a fun sur­prise this morn­ing— Hal­loween goody bags they got to en­joy be­fore school. I then hur­ried out the door to get Ada and Brielle to preschool. By the time I got to work, the crew had al­ready be­gun the har­vest cleanup. We brought all the equip­ment back to our home marsh to be cleaned and stored un­til next sea­son.

Sandy Nemitz moves ramps with a trac­tor so a har­row can drive into flooded cran­berry beds.

Todd Pot­ter (cen­ter) with his chil­dren, Sandy Nemitz and David Pot­ter.

The berry pump (cen­ter) sucks up the float­ing cran­ber­ries and sorts them from stray leaves and vines. Berries then go in the semitruck (left) and de­bris moves to the “trash truck” (right).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.