WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Walker Cranberry, a seventh-generation cranberry bog, was established in 1946 by Harold and Doris Walker.
“At that time, Harold was working at a neighbor’s marsh full time and built the first four bogs with the help of a few with a shovels and wheelbarrows,” said Andy Walker, the son of marsh owners Pam and Ryan Walker.
To this day, the farm still practices the cranberry culture, with a focus on the values of both family and community.
“All the family members must become experts in all the areas of the operation. That way, no matter what is going on, someone can always help out and ensure production continues as intended,” Andy said.
The operation consists of 72 acres in cranberry production. Each acre has a few tons of cranberry plants on it, and the farm’s oldest beds are 60-70 years old. In a record year, the farm can produce a couple million pounds of fresh fruit.
Many marshes buy and plant new plants/vines, but not Walker Cranberry. They replant their own vines, which helps keep the costs of replanting beds to a minimum.
“Most people do not realize cranberries are grown in sand. Many think the berries are grown in water. Rather, the water is only used around harvest to prevent the plants from freezing,” said Andy’s wife, Hannah Walker.
The operation believes “water is a precious resource and it is our job to protect the water and ensure once we are done the water it is being released back into nature as pure or purer then when we originally borrowed the water,” Andy said.
Because the farm processes fresh berries, they do not use the typical yellow floating boons for harvest but instead, have picking machines that gentle remove all berries from the plants. Once the berries are removed from the vines, they are dried to prevent water from absorbing into the berry, preventing rot.
The marsh employs 20 seasonal employees and four full-time, year-round employees. Something the farm does that many cranberry bogs do not is they process their berries in their on-site processing facility for fresh sales.
When the farm added in the new machinery, they were able to eliminate an additional 30 people required to help sort the berries. This was a positive change because finding 50 or more seasonal employees can be a massive challenge for a family operation.
“There are fewer than a dozen fresh cranberry producers in the United States,” Andy said. “ Most fruit gets processed directly into juices and Craisins, and people want to know where their food comes from, the sanitation process and the safety and precautions the farm uses when it comes to pesticides.”
The farm has a processing facility on-site and processes their berries under Ocean Spray guidelines. The processing/packaging facility has been there for the past 10 years and helps the operation ensure there is no Listeria, E. coli or any other diseases that can be spread to the berries.
Walker Cranberry products can be found in the fresh cranberry area in many grocery stores.