BY KENDRA MURRAY
Being a lifelong Acushnet resident, I can say I’ve easily driven by Stone Bridge Farm thousands of times. It was always just another cranberry bog to me, one of many in Southeastern Massachusetts. Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve gotten to know the owners Scott and Joanne Harding and learn about their business, and it is not just another cranberry bog. Not only do the Hardings harvest cranberries, but also offer some great agritourism, which incorporates history, learning, and fun.
Scott grew up at the property he is currently farming on Leonard Street, though there were no bogs there when he was a child. His neighbor, Mr. Leonard, owned bogs and Scott would often wander next door to help care for and harvest the fruit. He enjoyed assisting with the berries, and when he was old enough, decided to start his own bog. Roughly thirty years ago, Scott planted bogs on his property. Two varieties were planted, Howes, a variety discovered in 1843 in East Dennis, and Stevens, a hybrid known for productivity and disease resistance.
The cranberries grown at Stone Bridge Farm are primarily dry harvested. There are two methods of harvesting cranberries, dry and wet. Most people are familiar with wet harvesting, which is when the beds are flooded with water and a harvester is driven through them to remove the fruit from the vines. Harvested cranberries float in the water and can be corralled into a corner. Cranberries that are wet harvested are primarily sold to make cranberry juice. Dry harvested cranberries are sold as whole fruit, and can often command a higher price. Last year, much of the cranberry crop that was dry harvested at Stone Bridge Farm was sold during the Boston Public Market Taste of the Season Week. Of the three acres of bogs that the Hardings currently grow on, most is dry harvested, and what is wet harvested is used for the agritoursim aspect of the business.
Scott and Joanne offer two very unique cranberry experiences on the farm. The first is pick-your-own (PYO) cranberries. There are a multitude of PYO apple, strawberry, and blueberry farms in the region, but when is the last time you had the opportunity to pick-your-own cranberries? It’s a great way to get personal with cranberry vines, a plant many folks are not familiar with. After picking for a short time, guests begin to appreciate all of the hard work that went into cranberry harvesting before mechanized methods became commonplace!
The second and more popular ag tourism experience offered at Stone Bridge is “Picture Yourself in a Cranberry Bog.” Scott and Joanne have one small bog in the back of the farm that is wet harvested. Once this bog has been flooded, guests are able to make appointments during the month of October to tour the farm, learn some history, and then pull on a pair of waders and hop into the bog! Joanne encourages guests to try different poses while she takes photographs, which are later emailed to guests. Folks come from all over the world to enjoy this experience, including the many parts of the United States, and as far away as China! Currently 30 – 50 people come to Stone Bridge each day to experience what it is like to be a cranberry farmer. Joanne says since starting this agritourism operation three years ago, she has a new fondness for growing. “You feed off the enthusiasm of the guests. We’re just so used to this, doing it for 30 years, and seeing how excited and interested everyone is to learn and explore gives you a newfound appreciation.”
Although hopping in the bog is the most exciting part of the experience, the history Scott provides is very interesting, especially for folks not from this area. “Many people actually think cranberries are grown in water and are surprised to learn that bogs are only flooded for harvesting and to protect the vines in the winter.” Scott starts from the beginning with the history of the berry…from how Native Americans introduced colonists to the “sassamenesh” or “ibimi,” which translates to bitter or sour berries. Guests also view the equipment, see the blossoms up close, and learn about pollination. “The more seeds a cranberry has, the more times a bee has visited. A cranberry needs to be visited four to five times to germinate.”
Attendees also learn about the growing practices of the farm, including the irrigation of the plants (vines need one inch of rain per week and one-and-a-half inches of rain during bloom) from a nearby river, and pesticide use. Stone Bridge Farm uses integrated pest management (IPM), meaning they learn about pest’s habits and life cycle, monitor the pest’s activities, and using the least toxic methods first before applying pesticides. Scott and Joanne spray very sparingly. Five years ago they began raising bees on the farm, so do their best to be good stewards and protect the health of their bees as well.
When it isn’t harvest season, Scott and Joanne also run the Acushnet Farmers Market on their property. From June through September local farmers and artisans assemble in what has become a gathering place for the community. One local farm who participates at the market, Runaway Farm, is the recipient of the cranberries that the Hardings wet harvest for “Picture Yourself in a Cranberry Bog.” Because those berries sit in water for the entire month of October, they are not suitable for sale. Instead they are fed to the Mangalica pigs at Runaway Farm. When farmers’ market season is over, the Hardings’ cranberries, honey, cranberry sauce, and other homemade goodies can be purchased in the farm store on the property.
This couple is deeply committed to the preservation of local agriculture. As the Hardings begin to think about retirement, they have already sold a portion of their bogs to a neighbor who continues to grow and harvest the berries (and will for years to come!) It was important for them to make sure that someone who was committed to growing cranberries took over that land. As growing this fruit in Massachusetts becomes more difficult with competition building in Wisconsin and Canada, it is important to keep the tradition alive here! Visit Stone Bridge Farm at 186 Leonard St, Acushnet, MA 02743. Call ahead about pick your own and hopping in the bog! Read the reviews on Trip Advisor, visit their website, and check them out on Facebook and Instagram.