How This Sixth Generation Ocean Spray Farmer Brings Cranberries to the Thanksgiving Table


Every Thanksgiving, the cranberry industry suddenly grows in size.

Along with fall flavors like pumpkin spice, cranberries are found in everything from cakes and pies to Starbucks drinks. And a surprising number of these tart little berries are produced by one company.

Or rather cooperative.

Founded by cranberry growers Marcus L. Urann, Elizabeth F. Lee, and John C. Makepeace in 1930 in Hanson, Massachusetts, Ocean Spray’s agricultural arm today consists of a network of 700 independent family cranberry farms. . All of them are partial owners of the business.

Alison Gilmore Carr is a sixth generation cranberry grower and her “extended family has been growing since the 1800s”. For Carr, who is a distant relative of one of the co-op’s founders, “growing up cranberry cultivation was an integral part of my childhood.” She worked in several other industries early in her career, but the farm ended up calling her.

“It’s just this love of taking care of and nurturing the land. I like to know that I can too [be part of] Providing a sustainable planet and a sustainable food source … Our culture is a perennial culture, so year after year, we take care and maintain the vines. It is sometimes very deep for me to stand out in the bog that my mother and father live. They’ve gone from two acres to a hundred now, and that same land has been cared for for generations and generations.

Ever since Carr was linked to the founders, Ocean Spray has always been a big part of her imagination. She describes the other farmers as a kind of extended family and, “Being the catalyst that brings so many people together over the holidays is so humbling … As a kid it was really fun to know that we were growing these cranberries and they were finishing. on Thanksgiving tables across the country.

These days, it can be easy to feel disconnected from our diet, losing track of where all the different things we eat come from and how much work is required to make even one onion. But for Carr, who enthusiastically explained to me the cranberry growing season (September to November), the intermittent nature of the harvest time (“sometimes we wait, we harvest, we wait, we harvest”), and the reason they flood fields with cranberries at harvest time (they float!) is that food is a way of life.

Every year, Carr’s family hosts a Cranberry Kitchen for Thanksgiving. Cranberries somehow end up on most people’s Thanksgiving tables, but in the Carr family, they are the main event.

“It was started by my grandmother, my Nina… She would call each of us, my sister, myself, when my cousins ​​came. And she says, “Bring your best cranberry sauce or cranberry relish to Thanksgiving dinner.” We judged informally, and how she would assess the winner was the most consumed sauce or relish during the Thanksgiving meal. Every year, Ocean Spray’s Jelly Cranberry Sauce won out.

They have kept this tradition alive, and now her children are getting involved, providing their own berry dishes to the table.

Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday full of upsetting stories and misinformation. But we keep celebrating it for the same reason everyone celebrates the harvest. It keeps us connected to each other and to a sense of tradition, however imperfect it may be. For Carr, whose family already has a text channel devoted to the new cranberry dishes they bring for the big meal, it’s also a moment of great family pride.