Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 24, 2019
Sisters step into bog, find cranberry harvest
Dale, at left, and Kip Quinby are mid-harvest as first-year cranberry farmers at Red Bog in Sedgwick.
by Anne Berleant
Hang a left off Sis Porter Road, cross a sketchy-looking bridge over Camp Stream, and find yourself in the land of Red Bog, where clusters of fresh, red cranberries nestle among leaves and vines on four acres of dry land and sisters Kip and Dale Quinby are smack in mid-harvest of their first crop of Red Bog organic cranberries.
Red Bog is a dry bog, as opposed to a wet bog, and for cranberries, that means raking them by hand, at least for this first harvest.
“Cranberries grow low to the ground,” Kip said, “so mechanical rakes hurt the plants and berries.”
The sisters manage two adjacent bogs as one, and the upper and lower reservoirs—“We’re still working on the irrigation structure,” Kip said—are used to flood the bogs in early spring to control weeds, insect populations and fungi instead of relying on fungicides and other sprays.
While irrigation and maintenance goes on year round, the most intensive period for any farmer is the harvest. Cranberries are harvested for about six weeks in autumn, and the Quinbys have been busy raking, separating and packing, all while holding down a day job: Kip is a fisherman and Dale is a familiar face at the Blue Hill Library.
“None of us started out to be cranberry farmers but here’s these beautiful berries and vines,” Kip said. “How could you let it go?”
The cranberry bogs were originally built in the 1990s by Gary Williams, now a resident at Island Nursing Home. “A lot of Maine bogs were built then,” Kip explained. “Then the price plummeted.”
Williams eventually leased the bogs to another neighbor. When the Quinbys bought the land two years ago, they knew he was tiring of growing cranberries, Kip said, and when he decided not to renew his lease, they took over.
And for first-year, first-time cranberry farmers, the flats of berries packed into wooden quart containers and covered with red netting look pretty professional. The sisters sell Red Bog cranberries to the Blue Hill Co-op, TradeWinds, and through a distributor to co-ops and farmers markets throughout Maine, with sales and new marketing skills to master.
”We’re getting there,” Kip said. “It’s been a big learning curve, really steep.”
The sisters acknowledge lots of help from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension (from a guy they call Charlie Cranberry) but know that their organic farming method equals less harvest. In commercial, conventional cranberry agriculture, one acre of bog yields about 15,000 pounds of cranberries. “We will not achieve this doing it on a smaller scale and organically,” Kip said. “But we think it’s worth it.”
Dale and Kip are also growing fond of cranberries, they acknowledged. “We’re learning to use them in new ways all the time,” Kip said.
Meanwhile, Dale has found a use for the “bad” berries, kicked out by the separator: “I feed them to my sheep. They love them,” she laughed. “As they eat them, you hear this popping sound, like bubble wrap.”