The Cranberry Capital of Oregon
It may surprise some to learn that Bandon, with its mild climate and crashing surf, is an ideal place for growing cranberries, and it has grown to a center of production since the berries were first commercially grown here in the 1890s. In fact, today these cranberries make up approximately 95% of Oregon’s and 5% of the nation’s crop. About 1600 acres around Bandon, many family-owned, produce around 30 million pounds of berries. Cranberries, along with blueberries and Concord blue grapes, are one of the most commercially important fruits coming from North America.
Bandon’s coastal climate combined with its sandy soil offer uniquely perfect growing conditions for cranberries. These conditions have helped Bandon’s cranberries earn worldwide renown. Native to North America, Cranberry plants are actually vines, and they are grown in large rectangular beds known as bogs. Despite common misconceptions, the bogs are not flooded year round. In fact, most of the time they are completely devoid of water, except for the water used for irrigating them like any other crop. However, cranberries do need water year-round. The wet weather keeps the bogs irrigated throughout the rainy months, and it ensures that there will be enough water for harvest time when the bogs are flooded.
The mild autumns on the Southern Oregon Coast mean that Bandon cranberry farmers have a longer growing season than farmers in the midwest and on the east coast. These growers Growers are forced to harvest their berries in late September before the first frost, while harvest time in Bandon happens between mid-October and early December. This extended season produces a hardy berry and allows the berries to achieve the dark red color Americans have come to rely on for their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, compared to paler berries from the east. Some of Bandon’s berries are sent to the east coast to mix with the berries there to improve their color. These riper berries also have a naturally higher sugar content, so cranberry juice with berries from Bandon require less added sugar.
At harvest time, the bogs are flooded, and a special piece of equipment called a reel is used to loosen the cranberries from the vines. As the ripe berries can float, the berries then rise to the surface where they can be skimmed off and loaded into trucks. Most of Bandon’s cranberries are made into juice concentrate or frozen, while others are sold fresh, some dried, and some made into wine and sold at shops in the local area.
Most of Bandon’s cranberries are sold to a major corporation, but a few local farms remain independent, and some grow organically. Growing and harvesting these berries are sometimes done differently, and they tend to sell to smaller companies or individual people at stands and farmers’ markets.
Interested in learning more and maybe seeing some of the action for yourself? Some local farmers offer tours of their bogs during harvest time. Check here for a list of farms you can visit. Visit Bandon the second weekend of September, and you can take part in the annual Cranberry Festival. Click here for more information on this fun-filled weekend!