Photos and Story by Ashley Symons, Equal Exchange
On Oct. 27, a group of us from Equal Exchange visited Mann Farms, the supplier for our organic cranberries in Wareham, Mass. They were kind enough to show us around their bogs and facilities during the busy harvesting season, which only lasts 3-4 weeks and is extremely hard work, especially for the harvesting of organic cranberries since it requires hand weeding, alternative fertilizers, and innovative pest control.
“We were told organic can’t be done,” said Monika Mann, co-owner of Mann Farms. “It’s a lot harder, a lot more labor intensive … so not many are doing it, but it can be done.” The Manns are carefully watching their youngest bog, which is the first to be completely organic from the start. “I’m a little concerned, because the plants are behind and this has been a huge investment,” Monika said. “We won’t really know for five years, when the plants reach full production. You throw your heart out there sometimes and we’re doing it here.” Their other organic bogs were converted from conventional bogs; about 20% of the total farm is now organic acreage.
Monika got involved in cranberry farming shortly after she married Keith Mann, but she had always had an interest in organic agriculture. “Personally, my mission was to keep this land in agriculture and not developed,” Monika said. She and Keith started leasing 3.5 acres to experiment with organic cultivation in 1994 from Keith’s father, a second generation and lifelong cranberry farmer.
For Keith, cranberry farming is part of his earliest memories. “I clearly remember my father asking me when I was five years old if I wanted to take over the farm someday, or else he was going to sell it. So, I felt a lot of pressure at a young age to take on the family business, and I took it seriously,” Keith said. “I don’t even know if he remembers that but I always have.”
Keith eventually took over managing all 150 acres, and it hasn’t been easy. For a few years of crashing cranberry prices, Keith had no salary and few options, but couldn’t just abandon his family bogs. But they kept at it, and have had growing success. Their farming methods involve beautiful antique wooden sorting equipment mixed with new computerized technologies for water pumps that have helped reduce the work load, improve yield and let the Manns sleep better at night.
They’re excited to be working with Equal Exchange in building the market for small organic farmers in the United States. “If you can do what you’ve done for international farmers and repeat that for small, local, family farmers, that would be quite impressive,” Monika said.
We are certainly working on it – and we invite you to join us in supporting small, family farmers like the Manns.
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