Alice in Dairyland

Each year, on the last weekend in September, more than 140,000 people make their way to Warrens. The village of 300 people opens their doors and welcomes guests to their streets, their sidewalks, and even their front lawns. Visitors from all over the world come to Wisconsin, to this small country village, to savor and enjoy our state’s most famous fruit — the cranberry.

Cranberries, native to North America, have a strong tie to the state of Wisconsin. The first marshes in the state date back almost 200 years, to the 1830s. According to U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee, Edward Sackett of Sackett Harbor, New York, first traveled to Berlin, Wisconsin, to inspect some land. There, he found 700 acres of wild cranberry vines and decided to cultivate the marshes. Since Edward’s time, growers in Wisconsin have been tending to, and caring for this little red super-fruit.

Today, more than 250 cranberry growers can be found throughout central and northern Wisconsin. The sandy soils in these regions are perfect for the tart berries. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Cranberries are a perennial plant that grow on vines in special fields called bogs and marshes. When it is time to harvest the berries, the marshes are flooded with water. Thanks to a pocket of air with four chambers inside of the cranberry, the berries will float to the surface of the water when the marsh is flooded. Harvesting equipment will then come by and collect the berries. Each year, cranberries are harvested from late September through the end of October.

Now is the best time to find fresh cranberries in your local grocery store. Fresh cranberries are usually only available right after harvest season, from October to December. Of all the cranberries harvested in Wisconsin, only about 3% will end up being sold as fresh berries. The majority of cranberries harvested will be processed into cranberry products able to be enjoyed year-round. Though cranberry juice and cranberry sauce may come to mind first, the list of ways to enjoy cranberries seem almost endless. Have you ever tried cranberry cheese? What about cranberry salsa? Also be sure to try cranberry ice cream, cranberry mustard, and cranberry sausage!

No matter what cranberry product you choose to enjoy, you can be sure your choice is a healthy one. According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries score among the highest of all fruits in antioxidants. Diets that include fruits and vegetables with high antioxidant values, like cranberries, may help support memory function and coordination. Cranberries are also cholesterol-free, fat-free and low in sodium, and help maintain a healthy heart.

This harvest season, celebrate the little red fruit that packs a big punch. Not only are cranberries healthy, but delicious. These berries represent Wisconsin’s rich agriculture history, and are truly woven into the story of our state. Learn more about our state’s fruit and find recipes for your next cranberry dish at wiscran.org.

Abigail Martin, a 2014 graduate of Milton High School, is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland. Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador works with media professionals to share the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy and way of life.

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