With 3,600 acres devoted to cranberry fields, New Jersey is the third-largest cranberry producer in the United States, behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts. While native to the state—cranberries were a staple of the indigenous Lenni-Lenape people long before the colonists arrived—cranberry cultivation began in New Jersey in the mid-19th century and was initially successful due to the ideal acidic soils found in the state's Pinelands region.
Rutgers' 90-Year-Old Cranberry Research Center
In the heart of the Pinelands is Rutgers' Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension, established in 1918 to help New Jersey growers apply scientific principles to increasing crop yields and developing ever-hardier cultivars. Nine decades later, the search for greater yields is even more urgent, as development restrictions in the environmentally sensitive Pinelands largely prohibit expansion and the establishment of new cranberry bogs.
Safer Pesticides, Health Benefits
The Marucci Center, a unit of Rutgers' New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, also devotes considerable effort to studying the medicinal properties of cranberries and to developing cranberry pesticides that are safer than broad-spectrum formulas, now often banned due to health and environmental concerns. Joseph J. White Inc., in Browns Mills, New Jersey—one of the oldest and largest cranberry growers in New Jersey and featured here—has worked with the Marucci Center for many years on cultivars, pesticides, bee populations, and more. Folklore has long touted the healthful benefits of cranberries, and Rutgers science is bearing out the legends with recent research linking cranberry compounds to urinary tract health and more effective treatments for ovarian cancer.
Cranberry Genome, Processed Foods
Beyond health science, Rutgers' cranberry research ranges from the mapping of the cranberry genome to conducting studies that aid makers of cranberry products. The genomic work at Rutgers' Waksman Institute of Microbiology grew out of the Marucci Center's collection of decades-old "pure" cranberry cultivars. The many generations of the same cranberry strain make for a model genomic subject, and the fact that the cranberry genome is small, makes it an even more appealing species to map. Meanwhile, food science researchers at Rutgers are studying how to extend the shelf life of processed cranberry products, including juices, sauces, and dried berries.
The Dry and Wet Harvests
Cranberry harvests are either "dry" or "wet." In the dry harvest, ripe red berries are picked directly from bushes; these are the whole berries sold seasonally in stores in plastic bags, akin to any fresh fruit found in the produce aisle. The wet harvest collects berries that are used in processed foods—anything from trail mix and granola bars to cranberry juice and the familiar canned sauce we see on Thanksgiving tables. Rutgers faculty, extension specialists, and students from the Marucci Center, Waksman Institute, and Department of Food Science visited the Joseph J.White farm to observe the October wet harvest.