I can’t imagine living anywhere but the Finger Lakes. However, there is one thing we don’t have here and that’s an ocean! Cape Cod has always been my “go-to” for a sand and salt fix. As a child, my family camped at Nickerson State Park in Brewster, MA. In high school and college, I brought boyfriends and friends back to Area Six, and in my 30’s it was my husband and my own kids setting up camp with me in Site 91. These days, as empty-nesters (but still in a tent!) we head east in the fall when it’s not as hot or crowded. In 2021, with Covid continuing to nip at our heels, we decided it was the end of August or nothing.
Timing wasn’t the only change in our normal routine. We’re a family who cherishes traditions, so we tended to do the same things every year. Go to a double feature at the Wellfleet Drive-In. Ride our bikes on the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar. Spend hours at Nauset Beach, riding the waves. You get the point! This year, with everything else being so different, we decided to expand our horizons. Here’s something we did for the first time!
Cape Cod Cranberry Bog Tour in Harwich, MA
After reviewing three bogs online, I chose an hour and a half tour of the largest organic cranberry bog on Cape Cod, one that seemed to offer the most authentic view of a cranberry bog. My instincts were confirmed when I booked our reservations (required). In a New England accent, you could cut with a knife the gentleman who answered the phone told me they would provide an excellent introduction to cranberry farming as long as we understood a few things. “Follow the directions on our website, not your GPS,” he instructed, noting that he couldn’t even begin to tell me how many times people had called because GPS had dumped them on the wrong street. “The tours start on time,” he concluded. Next up was the experience. “You will not see fields of floating red cranberries like on the television commercials. That happens for about 24-hours in September, that’s it! What you will see is what real cranberry farming looks like,” he added. “And, there will be dogs! This is a working farm and dogs are part of it. Not your dog, our dogs. They won’t be on leashes so if you don’t like dogs, stay home!” At the other end of the line, I waited expectantly to see if there was more. There was. “We don’t take a deposit and all we ask in return is that you call ahead to cancel if you can’t make it, so we can fill your spot.” He continued, “Do you know how many people have been considerate enough to do that in all the years we’ve been running the bog tours? About three!” Before hanging up I told him I was looking forward to meeting him. His response? “I don’t do the tours my wife does. People think I’m too grouchy.”
I’ve paraphrased our conversation, but you get the drift. It’s a reminder to us tourists to be respectful when visiting someone else’s small business. Not only is it their livelihood, they’re proud enough of what they do to give up precious time to share it with others. Common courtesy and a genuine interest go a long way.
Owner Andrea Cakounes met us at the gate, collected our cash ($15.00/person, no credit cards), and led us to the van that we’d be touring the farm on. Upbeat and funny, acting as both driver and guide, she provided a comprehensive month-by-month look at what a cranberry farmer’s life looks like. It’s an infrequently used, but very logical, way to structure a farm tour and by the end of it I felt like I had a good feel for the daily operations and special challenges of running a 20-acre bog in New England. Basically it’s 365 days of hard work, beginning in January with sanding the bogs and ending in December with finishing the harvest and gearing up for the next calendar year.
What was striking to me was how much work is involved in becoming a
USDA certified organic farmer. You definitely need a strong sense of commitment to stay that course. Another thing that stood out was the creativity and resourcefulness of farmers in using other natural resources to enhance their bogs functioning. Everyone on the farm has a role. The bees that arrive each spring are the pollinators, the goats “goat scape” the rampant poison ivy, and bird houses are set up all over the property to attract bluebirds, chickadees and other feathered friends to eat the insects that can harm the crop. Bats also aid in this. Once all the prep work is done, the bogs bloom in June and July, cranberries grow from July to September, and the harvest begins in mid-September.
I never realized there were so many varieties of cranberries or how many stages are in the growing process, from the first planting to the juice, muffins, or salads I love to enjoy all year round. The daily reality of a cranberry bog may not be as picturesque as those fleeting, floating scarlet berries but it’s a lot more interesting!