• Harvesting Cape Cod Cranberries

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    Julia Cumes
    Julia Cumes is a photographer based on Cape Cod, MA (and partially in NYC). She specializes in photojournalism, environmental portraiture, travel and editorial photography. She was born in South Africa and moved to the United States as a 15-year-old. She first fell in love with photography as a teenager in South Africa when she began shooting black and white film and printing her own work.
    Julia Cumes

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    By Julia Cumes

    Every fall Cape Cod’s cranberry bogs are transformed from dull fields into a colorful landscape of floating red berries when growers flood the bogs. Last year, I spent some time photographing Ray Thacher and his crew as they harvested their berries.

    Thacher’s family has been growing cranberries on Cape Cod for over 60 years. As children, he and his two sisters worked with their parents on the bogs just as his own children did when they were growing up.

    “Growing cranberries means you have to be a farmer, a mechanic, a builder, a painter…you do something different every day,” he says. While fall is harvesting season and the most visibly busy time for Thacher and his crew, cranberry farming is demanding year-round.

    From maintaining bogs and equipment, to setting up sprinklers, monitoring for insects, fertilizing and pruning, dry picking, water picking and accounting, Thacher’s work is never quite done.

    In recent years, cranberry growers have been threatened by a surplus of berries. “This can be a huge problem for growers because the price of cranberries plummets and unless you’re part of Ocean Spray–a grower-owned cooperative–you can’t make a profit,” says Thacher. His family is lucky to have joined Ocean Spray decades ago so they are less vulnerable to dips in prices.

    “It’s sometimes tough working outside in the winter but mostly, it’s great to be growing food (and juice) that is enjoyed world-wide,” says Thacher. During my time photographing Ray and his crew, I was struck by the beauty of the setting and the camaraderie of the crew. Below are some images from my time with them.

    After flooding a bog in Brewster, they use a water harvester to churn the water and loosen the berries from the cranberry vines below. Apparently, the berries have small air pockets in them that allows them to float to the surface of the water.

    They corral the berries using a boom.

    A “detrasher” cleans and separates the berries after they are pumped from the bog.
    Cranberries are cleaned and separated by the “detrasher” after being pumped from the bog. They then are spat into a waiting truck for transportation to the Ocean Spray plant in Carver, MA, where they are either made into concentrate or frozen for future usage.

    They use “dry pickers” to dry pick berries in late October. The berries are put into burlap sacks and then dumped into containers. Dry berries are sold bagged at the grocery store for use in fresh recipes.

    You can view the activity at the bog at this photo gallery.

    April 20, 2014