Behind-the-scenes look at cranberry harvest in Wisconsin
Cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving staple, and Wisconsin plays a major role in cranberry production across the country and even worldwide.
Life on a cranberry marsh is no walk in the park, but for those in the industry, like Michael Villars, it's a way of life.
"It's never been a job. It's been more of a lifestyle, which is pretty lucky," said Villars, the manager at Gottschalk Cranberry.
Cranberry production is big business in Wisconsin. In 2017, the Badger State is set to produce 5.6 million barrels, nearly 60% of the nation's crop.
"Statewide, our industry is worth almost a billion dollars annually, and we employ or create almost 4,000 jobs," said Fawn Gottschalk, co-owner at Gottschalk Cranberry.
Fawn is third generation on her family's namesake farm in Wisconsin Rapids.
"It started small. We've done some expansions throughout the years. Now we're on 235 acres of cranberries."
From start to finish, harvesting one six acre bed can take 8 hours. They use a harrow to cut the berries off the vines, then a boom and tractors to corral them to one end, so they can be pumped into a truck.
"The berry pump is like a giant vacuum cleaner. It sucks up berries and water. They go up to the top of the pump, and just before they come out of the shoot into the truck, they're sprayed off with water. Then the water and all the leaves and stuff we call trash, go out another pipe to another truck and then the water goes back in the bed," said Gottschalk.
Fall harvest is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process with a time constraint.
"You gotta keep moving to get it done. You don’t want to get later into the season in November and have to worry about getting froze in, which has happened in the past,” said Villars.
Gottschalk Farm sells its berries to Ocean Spray where they'll be processed into juice, sauce, and dried fruit.
"A typical year, we would produce between 50-60,000 barrels. One barrel is equal to 100 pounds," said Gottschalk.
A lot has changed in three generations at Gottschalk -- the tools, technology, even demand for cranberries. One thing has remained the same, the passion.
"I'm going to hang around for a while. I do love it."
This year's crop was substantial but not record-breaking. The berries were a bit smaller than the farm had hoped because the summer was not hot enough.