Happy Thanksgiving.

This year, I wanted to take an in-depth look at cranberries, which are second only to the turkey drumstick as the favorite component of my holiday meal.

The little, red sphere of tartness turns out to be only one of three fruits that naturally occur in North America (the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes).

It turns out that cranberry farming has been so successful, there is a glut of the fruit that can’t be used, so there is a quest for new options for their use.

Just as demand is hitting its seasonal peak, American processors are anxiously awaiting government approval that would allow them to turn excess fruit into fertilizer. The program would be the first of its kind for cranberries.

Supplies have piled up amid bountiful U.S. harvests and a surge in imports. Inventories were large enough to top consumption before farmers even started gathering this year’s crop in September. The overhang prompted growers and processors to vote in favor of the disposal program at a biannual meeting of the Cranberry Marketing Committee in August. The U.S. Department of Agriculture could rubber-stamp the proposal as early as this week.

“The order will allow the industry to get back into supply and demand balance,” said Kellyanne Dignan, the director of global cooperative communications at Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., the largest U.S. producer and processor, and a name that’s become almost synonymous with the fruit.

Over 50% of cranberries are grown in Wisconsin and are its top fruit crop. There are also a number of farms in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Maine is reporting that their farms are struggling.

The national surplus has affected Maine’s industry as well, said Charlie Armstrong, the cranberry expert at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“But the industry is bombarded on all sides from other pressures, too,” he said.

Yields are going down and demand hasn’t gone up. And new larger strains of the berry mean processors need fewer berries to make cranberry sauce and cranberry juice.

More economically successful dry-harvested berries last for months, but can take a month to harvest; many growers in Maine don’t have the time and manpower for that method. Flooding the bog and letting the berries rise to the top takes a couple days, but those berries only last a couple weeks. That’s the universally popular harvesting method, and those are the berries there is a surplus of.

In terms of their use as food, the science is settled: Cranberries are good for you!

Antioxidants and phytonutrients in cranberries, such as oligomeric proanthocyanidins, anthocyanidin flavonoids (which give them their bright red color), cyanidin, peonidin, and quercetin, have unique health-impacting attributes….Some contain stroke- and cardiovascular disease-preventing compounds that discourage cholesterol from forming in the heart and blood vessels.

Research bears out that cranberries also protect against cancer, particularly breast cancer, due in part to potent antioxidant polyphenols.

The fiber in cranberries is another big benefit, providing 20% of the daily recommended value in every serving for maintaining a flushed system. The same amount is found in manganese. One serving of cranberries also provides 24% of the daily value (DV) in vitamin C, along with vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), the only form of this powerful antioxidant actively maintained in the human body.

FoodTV has a fun look at cranberries and how they are farmed.

So, enjoy the cranberry sauce and appreciate how free-market oriented farming means we have surplus berries that can be used as fertilizer…instead of the North Korean option.


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