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If I asked you what Richmond’s biggest export was, could you tell me? A few weeks ago I didn’t know myself! I probably would have guessed seafood—it is in fact, cranberries!
This week on The Richmond Reel I headed out to Richmond’s vast agricultural lands to take a peek into the lives of our local cranberry farmers. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with a woman named Charl May, a local farmer from Richmond’s May family. The May family? This family has made quite a name for themselves and owns a huge amount of agricultural land in Richmond. Several brothers in the family spearhead the cranberry harvest each year. Who better to show me around than a family that’s been farming in Richmond for 100 years?
The cranberry harvest begins in October and lasts till about November each year. Assuming you already have a crop planted and growing, the first phase to the harvest is flooding the fields. Using an elaborate canal system dug around all of the fields, the farmers funnel river water into the bog and begin the process of flooding. Depending on the size of the field, it takes about one day of flooding to fill one field.
The next step is the beating phase. This is when a series of machines called ‘beaters’ come in and thrash the field, knocking the cranberries off their vines so they float to the surface. The beating phase takes about one day to two days per field depending on the size. At this point, the sea of red that the cranberries are so famous for begins to materialize. It is a beautiful sight to see.
So now we have a huge field full of floating berries. It’s at this point that the berries are ‘boomed’ and siphoned off. The fields are absolutely enormous so the farmers utilize wind direction to their advantage in cordoning off the berries… and there are A LOT of berries. Depending on the year, a single field may produce anywhere from four to ten truckloads of cranberries. Charl’s family has eight fields in Richmond, as well as a number of others in Fort Langely.
The next step is extracting the berries from the field. During my time in the bog I saw several different methods employed to do this—it seems that each family has their own way of doing it. Charl’s family used a combination of water pressure to funnel the berries up a conveyor belt into the waiting trucks. Another nearby May farm used pressure and hoses to pump the berries out of the bog. It’s a pretty cool process to see, and it’s amazing the amount of berries being extracted.
The final step is taking the now collected berries to the co-op—in this case the giant Ocean Spray factory located on Richmond’s No. 6 Road. The berries are then cleaned and processed into the various cranberry products you know and love.
That’s the entire process to the harvest! It’s a lot of work in very cold and wet conditions! That being said, every farmer I met during my several trips out to the bog was in great spirits and always gave me a smile and wave. Thanks again to Charl and the May family for allowing me to come out to their cranberry farm and film them during the harvest! The only shot I seemed to have missed was Charl tripping in the bog and going face first into the cranberries. Next year!
Fun fact: Where does white cranberry juice come from? It’s from harvesting the cranberries in August instead of October when they are still white!