Lately I've been asked, "How do you get cranberry seed oil?"
My answer: "It's a very pressing operation." Ha.
In all seriousness, it's a long labor intensive operation. Especially when you consider everything that it takes to grow a cranberry. Growing cranberries is such a unique industry I feel compelled to tell you our story. Bear with me.
My husband and I (high school sweethearts) were away at college together when he came up with the idea of starting a cranberry farm. His family already owned some acreage with enough reservoirs to sustain a marsh. So armed with an old giant bulldozer he went to work sculpting the land. He was a one man show for a long time. Not sure how at the infantile age of 19 he even knew what he was doing. He worked long hours. Sun up to sun down. I remember when he'd come home from work all you could see were the whites of his eyes, as he would be covered head to toe in dirt. After a lot of investment in time and money we finally were ready to plant our first vines.
It's a test of patience as you cannot harvest from those vines for at least three years. And production isn't at full speed until year 4 or 5. It's a struggle waiting to reap your first harvest. But seeing those beautiful red berries in the fall was worth the wait. Times were good back then. We were paid handsomely for our labor. But almost 30 years later our industry is hurting. It actually costs more to grow and harvest our berries than what we get paid. For now we are holding on, hoping for change. Trying to diversify. But our farm still needs to be cared for.
Cranberry beds (or bogs) need year round care. Springtime is a when you work hard to ensure that your buds are healthy and protected from frost. This includes applying fertilizer, fungicides or insecticides. It also includes purchasing lots of honey bee hives to pollinate the little pink flowers that blossom and eventually turn into berries. Might I add that still to this day I run like a fool when I see a bee. Can't help it. Bee stings hurt. Springtime also means that someone needs to frost watch. When the nights are cool in the spring we irrigate to keep the buds from freezing. It is round the clock care. Almost like being in the intensive care unit.
When our Wisconsin summer finally decides to arrive we worry more about the pests, and making sure that the vines are not stressed from the heat. Keeping the right amount of moisture on the beds is a delicate dance. And just in case anyone is confused - cranberries do NOT grow IN water. The beds are only flooded for harvest.
When the leaves begin to change color so do our berries. They go from a bright green to a deep crimson red. The cool nights and fall sunshine help this process. Fall is the time of year that becomes all hands on deck. It is when we finally get to harvest. To reap what we've sown. The beds are flooded and the berries get knocked off the vines with either a picker or a harrow machine. Once the berries get tickled off the vines they float to the surface. The bed becomes a beautiful sea of red. (That's where you'll see those crazy guys from the Ocean Spray commercials).
The berries then need to be conveyed off the beds, cleaned, sorted and sent away to a processing plant.
Once harvest is over there is a lot maintenance that needs to be taken care off. During the winter our beds need to be flooded again so that we can form layers of ice to protect them during our harsh Wisconsin winters. We also spread sand on the beds during the winter by driving a dump truck over the ice and spreading a thin layer of sand. This helps the vines grow during the spring. To learn more about cranberries visit Wisconsin Cranberries.
But what about the oil?
Well, once our cranberries get processed at a local processor the seeds are expelled. The seeds are actually a by-product that in the past was discarded. We have arrangements to pick up the seeds. They come to us in large totes but are a very wet. In fact, it sometimes looks like a murder scene at our plant when the totes start to ooze out cranberry juice.
It has been a trial and error process of learning how to effectively dry the seeds. It's not like there are books on it. Even Google is silent on the process.
You have to be careful not to use too much heat because you ruin the integrity of the seed. The seeds have to be at a certain moisture level (sworn to secrecy on that percentage) before they can be pressed. We currently are tumbling the seeds with the right amount of heat and moisture control. It takes a few days just to dry one tote.
Once the seeds are dried they can be pressed. A hopper above the press receives the dry seed and it funnels down into a press. The press is essentially a large screw looking thing that applies enough pressure to squeeze out the oil. One side of the press, oil is released and the other side has another by product which is called press cake. Some companies are using this press cake for protein powder formulas. I have found that it works as a great colorant to bath and body products.
Anyhow, so now we have a container of 100% Pure Cold Pressed cranberry seed oil. The oil then needs to sit for awhile and settle. After a few weeks, the oil is ready to be poured into containers using a fine mesh filter.
Fun Fact: It takes a full semi load of cranberries to make just 5 gallons of oil.
Our seeds are never exposed to chemicals or cleaners. Our cold press process ensures that all the goodness of cranberries is present in the oil. It's amazing to think about how such a tiny little seed harnesses so much potential.
Thanks for listening but I have a pressing matter to attend to.