Cranberries are one of a handful of fruits native to North America. For those of us who live in Southeastern Massachusetts, cranberries hold a special place in our collective hearts. Bogs dot roadsides throughout our region and each Fall their beauty takes our breath away. Cranberries are a food that defines New England.
With its sandy soil and plentiful sources of fresh water, Southeastern Massachusetts is an ideal spot for growing cranberries. Plymouth and Bristol counties alone are home to 347 cranberry farms including Carver’s picturesque Fresh Meadows Farm. Owned by Dom Fernandes, Fresh Meadows is one of the few area farms growing certified organic cranberries.
Dom is the third generation of his family to farm the land known as Fresh Meadows Farm. In the 1920s a series of droughts devastated the economy of Cape Verde, which led Dom’s grandfather, John Alves, to immigrate to the United States.
In 2008, after many years and a three-year certification process, Dom established Fresh Meadows Farm as the organic arm of his cranberry operation.
Come harvest time, the majority of cranberries in the United States are wet harvested—the berries are loosened from the vine by machines and then float to the top where they are gathered. Dom explains the benefits, “it’s less labor intensive, you generally are picking much larger crops and pretty much every variety of berry will lend itself to wet harvest.” Although more cost efficient, this type of harvesting slightly bruises the fruit, making it best suited for juice, jellies, and as dried fruit. In contrast, Fresh Meadows Farm uses dry harvesting where the fruit is dry harvested by mechanical pickers. This type of harvesting comprises less than 5% of the entire industry and is used for cranberries that will be sold fresh or frozen whole.
To maintain organic certification, every part of the operation needs to be organic. All inputs, including the sand and water, are part of an approved organic plan, and all equipment and water usage has to be dedicated to the organic operation. These factors translate into a 2-3 times cost premium over conventional berries; a cost an increasing number of consumers are happy to pay.
However, Dom, is heartened by the increasing recognition around the benefits of “buying local”, as more consumers seek out Massachusetts-grown cranberries. As long-time customer Susan Playfair observes, “Buying his (Dom’s) organic berries grown without pesticides is my small way of promoting healthier food choices, helping to protect the lives of bee pollinators, and ensuring that I and those I buy for are doing what we can to create a more sustainable environment.” For Dom, this makes the challenges of organic cranberry farming worth it. As he reflected, “When I first started doing organic, it was really more of an experiment, I didn’t know if there was any chance of remaining viable. I am much more encouraged nine years later that not only can it work, but that I can grow it and that it is here to stay.”
Fresh Meadows Farm cranberries can be purchased at:
Fresh Meadows Farm (farm-stand open weekends in October)
Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FarmFreshRI.org)
Holly Hill Farm, Cohasset (HollyHillFarm.org)
Plymouth Farmers Market (PlymouthFarmersMarket.org)
South Shore Organics (SouthShoreOrganics.com)
And through numerous local CSA’s.
Fresh Meadows Farm
39 North Main Street
Carver, MA 02330
- 2 cups fresh (or frozen) local cranberries
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 apples, cored and chopped coarsely (no need to peel)
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, nutmeg and/or lemon rind
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8” × 8” or 9” × 9” baking dish, or similar-sized round or oval baker.
Put the cranberries, honey and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer. When the berries pop (about 5 minutes), add the apple, and return to a boil briefly. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, mix all the remaining ingredients thoroughly. Press half the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish, spread the cranberry mixture over evenly, then sprinkle with the remaining crumble. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve warm with a dollop of cream, whipped cream, or ice cream, if desired.
Serves 5-6; double the recipe and use a 13” × 9” baking dish (and bake another 10 minutes or so) to feed a bigger crowd.
Julia Powers is a nutritionist and writer based in Hingham. Fresh Meadows Farm cranberries make frequent appearances on her family’s table in everything from smoothies to cranberry-orange pork tenderloin.