Cranberries rule in tiny Warrens
Think of tiny Warrens, Wis., when eating your Thanksgiving dinner this year. Why?
The town of 300 in Monroe County can legitimately lay claim to being the cranberry capital of Wisconsin, if not the country; perhaps even the world.
Millions of tons of cranberries are raised near the town. Many of them become that delicious sauce you eat with your turkey or other delectable products.
Warrens is also home to the Cranberry Museum Discovery Center. The facility includes a fine exhibition hall which tells the contemporary status of the cranberry industry, as well as its history.
It is a rich history in Wisconsin, going back about 140 years. Wisconsin growers produce around 300 million pounds of the fruit annually, more than half the 575 million pounds consumed per year in the United States.
The cranberry industry generates about $300 million in business in the state and employs 7,000 people. In April, Gov. Jim Doyle and the state legislature named the cranberry the state fruit.
Around 250 cranberry growers can be found in Wisconsin. Some marshes have been in operations for more than 100 years. Farmers have been growing cranberries in the state since the mid-1800s.
Many of the berries are grown in sand now, but there are some traditional peat marshes left. After the berries are grown on vines in the sand or peat, they are shaken loose. The marshes are then flooded, the berries float to the top of the water and are harvested.
Surrounding Warrens are thousands of acres of cranberry marshes. You can get maps of two driving tours that will bring you through them.
The harvest season is ending now, but you might want to plan to take the tours next season. They are interesting, informative and bring you through a beautiful part of Wisconsin.
Warrens celebrates its cranberry heritage with more than just the museum. Once a year, its population soars as thousands of people come to the town for what locals call Cranfest.
The festival has one of the largest flea markets and craft fairs in the state. Of course, many edible products made from cranberries are features, but you can pick up everything from warm socks to wooden crafts at this event.
A parade and musical entertainment also are part of the festival. The 2005 Cranfest is scheduled for Sept. 23-25.
Warrens isn't the only place where cranberries rule. The Wisconsin Cranberry Association is located in Wisconsin Rapids. Marshes can be found in 20 counties in the state.
The cranberry industry has been going through some changes. Northland, a major player in the state, is selling some of its operations to Ocean Spray, an even bigger player in the state and nation.
In recent years, the industry also has updated its marketing approaches. For example, more cranberries are sold for the making of juice than a couple decades ago. Cranberries are combined with other fruits, and most recently tea, in a variety of beverages.
Craisins have been another product developed over the last decade or so. They are made from dried berries.
The cranberry industry has capitalized on research that shows some health benefits from the fruit. That research has indicated consumption of cranberries can help combat urinary infections and gum disease. Cranberries also are rich in anti-oxidants and flavonoids that can have benefits in the fight against heart disease and cancer.
So, that sauce you gobble up, or those little red berries that are in the dressing or around the turkey, might just be tasty, healthy morsels for you. But, for tiny Warrens, and many people around the state, they represent a cash crop worth millions.
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