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.
Every February when my husband and I have had enough of ice, snow, shoveling, and winter coats we pack up our suitcases and head to Florida. There is no better place in my opinion to recharge our frozen bodies than the crystal white sands of Siesta Key. We were very fortunate this year because the area was having record breaking high temperatures. The days were in the mid 80's and full of sunshine. We spent countless hours on the beach, in the water and on a boat. It truly put our sunscreen to the test. Trying to live up to my new mantra of natural is better, I opted for a "healthy" sunscreen this time.
Do you think manufacturer's purposefully print the ingredient list in microscopic print because they know it's too much work to find your reading glasses?
Preparing for my first day out in the sun I slathered on my new found healthy alternative to avoid a sunburn and skin cancer. I squeezed out a healthy portion in my hand and applied it to my face. Much to my surprise, when I looked in the mirror I resembled a Japanese hostess otherwise known as a geisha. Only then did I search for my glasses to see just what I was putting on my face.
I know. I know. Practice what you preach girl.
But I did read the front of the bottle which assured me that it was healthy and contained no chemicals. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Aha. Glasses on. Now I can see even though there is a glare coming off my stark white face. Active ingredient: 4.8% titanium dioxide. Hmm. I thought we were told to avoid that stuff...
After spending hours researching this titanium dioxide stuff I'm still not sure. I guess it comes down to who you want to believe. I did notice that this "healthy alternative" did not protect my skin as well as Coppertone, which I also used with a much lower SPF.
So I guess we are left to pick our poison. Sunburn, chemicals, skin cancer... oh I thought this vacation was supposed to be rejuvenating!
Here comes the product pitch. Wait for it. Wait...
Guess what helped my sunburned skin?!
If you were thinking Cranberry Seed Oil than you and I are soul mates. I slathered on our delightful ALL NATURAL oil all over my face twice a day. My skin did not blister or peel. Now I'm just left with a tan. Scouts honor.
If you are still reading this, I bet you are wondering when the heck you get to hear about the police report. Well pull up a chair and let me tell you about this wonderful crazy world we live in.
My husband and I flew from Milwaukee to Tampa. We stayed at a Marriott near the airport in Milwaukee and payed for the Park Here, Fly there stay. Nice. Convenient. Easy. Got a great parking spot under a bright light right up front to the building and next to the door. Perfect.
We waved goodbye to his truck as we left the hotel in the free shuttle service bound for the airport. No worries.
That was until we returned to the truck just 9 days later.
As we pulled back into the hotel parking lot, recharged and rejuvenated but eager to sleep in our own beds, we heard the shuttle driver ask "Did you leave a window open?"
While we were away, someone decided that what we had in our truck they deserved more than us. To enter the locked vehicle, they brutally smashed the driver side window into tiny little pieces. These little shards of glass lay all over the seats, floor and dash. They then decided that they should hurry along so they ransacked through all of our belongings. Throwing the insides of his console all about the truck.
What did they steal?
My winter jacket. My favorite winter jacket. A bag full of dirty clothes from the night at the hotel. Hope they wash and return. My cardigan sweater. My favorite cardigan sweater. And that's it. Not much taken. Left behind were the Oakley sunglasses -still hanging on the visor. The $50 cash in the console- untouched. The various tools scattered about my husbands work truck - still scattered. So what gives? The police officer thought perhaps a ring of keys lying on the seat gave the hoodlums the idea that they could steal the truck because the keys were inside. Little did they know that my husband (owner of a multitude of buildings and businesses) has so many keys that it'd make any custodian feel inferior. The key to the truck though was resting along with us in beautiful Siesta Key.
It's now 11:00 pm and we still have nearly a three hour ride home in a glass riddled truck with no window. We're tired, grumpy, cold and pissed. Time to call the police and file a police report. Time to use the hotels vacuum cleaner and clear away as much glass as we can. Did I mention that we haven't had dinner yet?
It was a very long loud COLD ride home. 42 degrees was a stark difference from the mid 80's we just came from. Luckily we found an old flannel shirt and a sweatshirt to wrap around our heads to seal in some heat. Our ears kept popping from the wind blowing around the cab. We couldn't have a conversation without yelling over the noise of the interstate. Oh, and the smells! I didn't realize Wisconsin had so many God awful smells. The skunks came out in droves to leave behind their pleasantries. Every farmer must have decided it was a good day to spread manure. Of course, don't forget about the lovely paper mill smells. Heat on full throttle, heated seats turned all the way up. Still so c-c-c-cold.
No longer recharged and rejuvenated we returned home to central Wisconsin. None the worse for wear we survived an assault on our personal property. We have a good story to tell and thanks to cranberry seed oil I still have my tan.
Now that I have your attention...
The average woman wears 515 chemicals on the average day.
Say what?! Yes, you read that correctly. 515 different chemicals are infiltrating your body as you read this. And that's just what you put ON your body. What about the room fragrance, the detergent in your clothing, the chemicals leaching off the sofa you're sitting on? It seems like every day we learn about something new that is bad for us that we once so joyously consumed, felt, or breathed. Think about non-stick cookware, flip flops, anti bacterial soap, Q-tips, microwave popcorn, sunscreen, plastic bottles, plastic anything, carbs. I'm sure I could go on until I am in such a tizzy that I won't sleep tonight... on my dust mite infested mattress snuggled under the sheets once dipped in formaldehyde. Seriously. Google it.
It's crazy to think about how our world has changed in the last 50 years. We've become slaves to convenience and numb to the warnings we hear every day. We believe everything that manufacturers tell us because we want to. It's easier that way. Someone once told me "Hey, something needs to kill me". But do we really want to just throw our hands up and say come get me? Probably not yet.
Do you want to know what's lurking in your bathroom drawers? Here's just a few of the 515.
We absorb up to 60% of what we put on our skin.
So what do we do? We become informed. READ LABELS.
Since we've started this business I have been paying attention to what I put on my skin. No, I haven't abandoned all the products that I like. I'm not that resourceful. Yet. But if I can swap out a few things at a time, I am making progress towards a healthier lifestyle. So, tonight before you go to bed check out your face wash, toothpaste, and lotion. When you wake up in the morning vow to swap out one of those products for a healthy one. I happen to know a great all natural superior moisturizer.
Have you ever wondered what it'd be like to be a cranberry farmer? As with any job there are certain things you need to know in order to do it well. People are often amazed if not at least curious when they hear that we grow cranberries. They can't help but ask questions to see how well they know the industry. My favorite question is "so they grow in water right?" I thought it'd be fun to put together a little quiz (my teacher side of me is emerging) to see if you could be a cranberry farmer.
Answers: 1 (F) cranberry vines would die if kept under water for too long 2 (T) when it gets very cold farmers flood the beds and build ice on top of the vines in order to protect them from the elements 3 (T) bees are a crucial part of the marsh during bloom 4 (F) The Titan Beetle is one of the largest beetles found in the rain forest 5 (T) sand is spread on during the winter by driving on the ice, the sand helps the vines grow 6 (F) farmers are unfortunately being paid at record low prices with some buyers paying less than what it costs to produce 7 (T) chicken poop is often used on organic cranberry farms 8 (F) while it's true that the beds are flooded during harvest it is because the berries need to get knocked off and float to the top in order to be picked up 9 (T) many varieties exist including Stevens, Hi-Reds & Sundance 10 (T) sunshine and cool nights help to turn berries into a beautiful red color
How'd you do?
8 or more correct: You should come work on our marsh!
5-7 correct: Not bad. Come on out to the marsh. You know you'd look good in waders.
Less than 5 correct: Don't quit your day job.
Brag it up! Share your test results below. After all, we are always looking for good help.