The cranberry industry has a long history in Wisconsin, and the growers who nurture and harvest the tiny red berry have deep roots in the state. Most of our more than 250 growers live and work on the marsh, and many are fourth and fifth generation growers whose families have grown cranberries on that same land for generations.
For us, growing cranberries is more than just a job; it's a passion. And that passion shines through when you taste real Wisconsin cranberries.
Ray Habelman - Habelman Brothers Co.
Ray Habelman Jr. is the fourth generation to grow cranberries on his family’s marsh – Habelman Brothers Co. Ray’s great grandfather planted the first 12-acre bed in 1907 and since then, the marsh has grown to more than 670 acres.
In fact, Habelman Brothers Co. is the largest fresh cranberry producer in the nation. Although fresh cranberries make up only about 5 percent of the market, Ray’s family has always been about fresh berries. Their fruit is sold in grocery stores across the United States, Canada and even Europe.
However, a lot has changed since Ray’s great grandfather farmed the land. Today, Habelman Brothers Co. uses a variety of sustainable practices to ensure the marsh continues to be productive while still being mindful of the environment. For example, Ray has established progressive nutrient management and integrated pest management programs on the marsh. In addition, he conducts soil and tissue tests every two weeks, and pays close attention to micronutrients, bee pollination and more.
These practices have been a success for Ray – the marsh continues to thrive and the company’s high-quality fresh cranberries end up on many people’s holiday tables each year. But more importantly, Ray wants to ensure the marsh continues to be healthy and productive for the next generation of Habelmans - his two sons who could potentially carry on that tradition.
Mary Sawyer - Saratoga Cranberry Co.
Cranberries run in Mary Sawyer's blood. Her ancestors purchased their first marsh in central Wisconsin in 1890 and have been growing the tart berry ever since. Mary has been working on the marsh for as long as she can remember, pitching in during summer breaks and after school during harvest season. After earning her degree in urban forestry, she began working full-time on the marsh in 2004.
Over the years, the family-managed marsh – Saratoga Cranberry Co. – has grown to approximately 70 acres. But one thing that remains important to Mary and her family is ensuring the marsh and its support land are preserved for future generations. In fact, for every one acre of cranberry-producing marsh land at Saratoga Cranberry Co., there are about six additional acres of land that are not used for farming, where a wide variety of wildlife thrives.
"We want people to know that cranberry growers have been stewards of the land long before 'sustainability' was a buzz word," Mary says. "It's pretty incredible!"
This business has been in the family for more than a century, and though it's hard work, Mary can't imagine doing anything else. "Seeing the beautiful red berries floating during harvest each year makes all the hard work worth it."
Nodji Van Wychen - Wetherby Cranberry Company
Mention the name Nodji Van Wychen anywhere in Wisconsin’s Cranberry Country and they will almost certainly know who you’re talking about – and they might even have a story for you.
Nodji grew up on the marsh at Wetherby Cranberry Co. – which was founded in 1903 just outside of Warrens, Wis. – and has been an active part of both the cranberry industry and the local community for more than 40 years. She and her husband Jim operate the 110-acre cranberry marsh with the help of their son, Henry, and their son-in-law, Mike. “We really are a family-owned and operated company,” says Nodji. And it truly has been a family business going back to 1915 when Nodji’s grandfather started managing the marsh.
Nodji is passionate about sharing her family’s business. She believes everyone should have the opportunity to learn about and see the cranberry industry in action. That’s why she is so active in the community – hosting bus tours, holding a public harvest day, serving on numerous boards – including the Warrens Area Business Association, co-founding the world’s largest cranberry festival and much more. Nodji and the community she lives and works in are deeply intertwined, and her dedication to serving that community is remarkable.
“The cranberry is important to me and staying active in our community is just one way we I can continue share our story,” says Nodji.