Every fall, cranberry farmers in B.C. stretch into their hip waders and haul floating booms through flooded crimson fields to bring-in their floating harvest.
“Tractors, cranberries, sunshine – you put it all together and you really feel good about what you do,” said Kristina May, at her family’s Mayland Farm in East Richmond Thursday.
For about two and a half weeks in October, farmers work straight through from about 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., “thunderstorm or sunshine,” added May, who is working her first harvest since returning to the family farm with a bachelor’s in agriculture.
Cranberry farming in Richmond started in the 1920s when a lumberman returned with cranberry vines from the Queen Charlotte Islands and began transplanting them in the area’s old peat mines.
The city, which has now has more than 800 hectares of cranberry fields, produces about 40 per cent of the province’s cranberry crop through Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned co-operative. The majority of the Richmond haul is sent to the U.S. to be turned into Craisins.
The fruit is harvested by pumping river water into the bog. The berries float and are knocked mechanically off their vines. They are then corralled with floating booms, elevated into trucks and hauled away for cleaning and processing.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s website, B.C. produces about 17 million kilograms of the tart red berries, worth about $25 million annually. The Richmond harvest, along with similar ones in Pitt Meadows, Delta and Fort Langley, accounts for about 8 per cent of the world’s supply of cranberries.
May, who was raised on a cranberry-heavy diet, said her favourite way of eating the fruit is in her sister’s scones. Her siblings though, are less discriminating.
“They eat them like candy – I can’t do that. When you get hungry out there, it’s nice to eat a few berries, but not handfuls like my sister does.”