Harvest season at Minnesota Cranberry Co., near Aitkin, looks like a crimson-colored carpet spread over a pond. The tiny floating berries, corralled in the corner of a flooded bog, are nearly a foot deep — practically begging to be scooped up, swirled, or dived into.
It's nature's version of a ball pit. Or a chic Instagram backdrop.
But for Shannon Forster and her family, cranberry harvest is a job that doubles as a CrossFit-grade workout.
Forster and her uncle, wearing waders in knee-deep water, pull on each end of a long, floating boom that encircles a load of cranberries. Though each berry weighs hardly anything, dragging thousands of them across the bog requires plenty of strength.
And agility. Because on a chilly October morning, you don't want to lose your footing.
"Everybody probably gets dunked once a year," Shannon admitted.
The tart berries are a staple of the Thanksgiving table, yet tend to spend the rest of the year pushed to the back of the freezer or pantry — the fruit world's crimson-hued stepchild.
But cranberries have deep cultural, economic and historic significance in the United States. Their high levels of health-promoting antioxidants have made them a valuable food and medicine for Indigenous people for centuries. The U.S. has long been the world's largest grower of cranberries, which are among the few commercially important fruits native to North America.
Wisconsin produces more than half of the country's crop. And though northern Minnesota's peatlands have similar, cranberry-conducive conditions — sandy, acidic soil, abundant fresh water, a climate that's both hot and cold — the Forsters are the state's only commercial growers.
As they transition operations to the second generation, the Forsters continue to refine their growing and harvesting techniques so they can produce their niche crop as sustainably as possible. "We take a lot of pride in what we do," Shannon said.
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