Island Cranberry Harvest, Now Dry & Scaled Back, Lives On

Written By: Jason Graziadei | Photography By: Cary Hazlegrove, NantucketStock.com

Photos like the one above – a flooded bog full of cranberries – typically fill the island’s social media pages during the month of October amid the annual harvest at the Milestone bog. But not this year. 

Not only was the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s annual Cranberry Festival cancelled last weekend due to concerns over COVID-19 transmission, the harvest itself is scaled back from prior years and being conducted as a “dry picking” harvest. That means the bogs aren’t flooded with water, so the scene out at the foundation’s Milestone Cranberry Bog looks a little different. 

But that hasn’t stopped the NCF team from hosting tours for island students and other community members this month to show visitors how bog manager Nick Larrabee and his team are harvesting the crop, which is now fully organic. The method includes a Darlington harvesting machine that rakes the berries off the vines onto a conveyor and into a box. The process is slower and less efficient, but the dry picked berries last far longer without refrigeration – up to six weeks – compared to the wet picked berries which need to be refrigerated within days, Larrabee said during a recent Atheneum virtual lecture

“Milestone no longer does any wet picking and we have downscaled pretty drastically,” Larrabee said. “But our goal is to just supply the island with cranberries, instead of dealing with the shipping costs that were pretty painful each year to deal with.” 

Larrabee’s father and grandfather both managed the bog before him. Together, they have more than 70 years of cranberry harvests under their belts. In its prime, the Milestone Bog had 165 acres being cultivated and the NCF shipped more than 2.8 million pounds of cranberries off the island following its best season.

Grace Hull, the foundation’s marketing and communication manager, told the Current this week that the non-profit will be welcoming the community to come out to the Milestone Cranberry Bog on Thursday, Oct. 28 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for “harvest hayrides” along with facepainting and other cranberry-related activities. The event is free to the public.

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