As you fill your Thanksgiving plate with another helping of that essential turkey side dish, cranberries, consider this:
More than 99 percent of Washington state’s cranberries are grown on small family farms along a one-mile coastal barrier in the southwest corner of the state near Long Beach. For over 100 years, the cranberry industry has provided a prosperous livelihood for 130 small family farmers in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties. Farmers planted the first cranberries in Long Beach in 1883.
The state’s cranberry industry is slowly expanding to a few new locations in Whatcom, Mason and Pierce counties where the potential for future growth is promising, according to Kim Patten, a horticulturist at Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Long Beach.
“Cranberry farming comprises three to five percent of the local economy in southwest Washington and has been one of the most sustainable industries in the area,” Patten said. The cranberry and oyster industry, in fact, have been the mainstay of the region’s economy for over 100 years.
Washington state, which is one of five major growing areas in the country, grows predominantly the McFarlin variety of cranberries. “Growers putting in new beds or renovating old beds usually plant the Stevens variety because of higher yields, bigger berries and earlier ripening,” Patten said.
The research and extension program in cranberries, which WSU has operated since 1922 at Long Beach, has been so vital to the cranberry industry that in 1993 cranberry growers in the Pacific Northwest established the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation. This nonprofit corporation purchased WSU’s research farm and facilities at Long Beach after the facilities were closed due to budget constraints.
The Foundation operates the research unit cooperatively with Washington State University — the first instance of a successful private-public partnership between WSU and a local agricultural commodity group. Research continues to be supported by the university, and a cooperative, volunteer effort by growers operates the farm.
The Foundation is funded by grower and associate members and by the sale of cranberries from the Demonstration Farm, which attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year. “The Farm has become one of our more popular destinations and includes a half-mile round-trip tour through the middle of the farm, an historical exhibit, and educational talks by volunteers,” Patten said.