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#Fridaysonthefarm - Organic Producer Delivers Cranberries to the Table

In Oneida County, Wisconsin, we visit James Lake Farms, an organic cranberry marsh owned and operated by John and Nora Stauner.Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.


The holiday table is set. Turkey and stuffing take center-stage. Your plate is heaping with indulgent goodies, but there is something missing. Organic cranberry producer John Stauner knows you’ll most likely reach for the sweet and tangy flavor of cranberries — a staple of the American Thanksgiving holiday.

This Friday, we travel to the heart of cranberry country: Oneida County, Wisconsin. There, we visit James Lake Farms, an organic cranberry marsh owned and operated by John and Nora Stauner.

In Oneida County, Wisconsin, we visit James Lake Farms, an organic cranberry marsh owned and operated by John and Nora Stauner.

The Farm

“I didn't grow up in cranberries and am a first-generation grower,” said John Stauner who runs the farm with his wife Nora.

With degrees in chemistry and natural resources, John gained hands-on knowledge and experience in cranberry farming with Northland Cranberries, a local consulting firm.

An oversupply of traditional cranberries resulted in the company being sold in 2000. That was when John decided to become an organic cranberry farmer.

Growing Organic

John and Nora started James Lake Farms and immediately transitioned the cranberry marsh to organic. 

Today, James Lake Farms has 65 acres of organic cranberry marshes and 1,540 acres of forest land on the property. 

John and Nora employ a full-time staff of six and 30 seasonal employees during harvest. Their son Ben, a National Guard veteran, decided to join the family business as a manager after returning from deployment in the Middle East in 2010.

Packaging Process

James Lake Farms packages under their own brand and many other organic brand labels sold in the Midwest. When cranberries are harvested, they come off the field dirty and wet. Berries are sorted and the chaff, leaves and stems are removed.

They are also cleaned, dried and stored in bins for packaging. “When we do a pick and pack operation, we normally have fresh berries on the truck in 24‒48 hours to be delivered,” said John.

Start with a Plan

The Stauners started with a business plan to identify their customers. Then, they developed a conservation plan for their organic operation with the help of NRCS.

Whether you are a beginning farmer or a seasoned rancher, NRCS can help you protect the nation’s resources while improving your operation’s bottom line.


“Ten years later, we are continuing to grow something that is good for people and the environment in which we are growing it. That is the most satisfying aspect of what we do.” 

-- John Stauner


 

“There is definitely a great market for organic cranberries; organics has helped us make our business viable,” said John.

“To meet consumer demand for organic products, more producers are pursuing organic certification and seeking assistance through NRCS programs.

Organic farming is an ecologically-based system that relies on preventative practices for weed, insect, and disease problems, uses nontoxic methods to manage problems if they arise, and improves the natural resources of the land, including soil and water quality.

“Ten years later, we are continuing to grow something that is good for people and the environment in which we are growing it. That is the most satisfying aspect of what we do,” said John.

NRCS Assistance

“All cranberry growers are implementing some form of nutrient, pest, and irrigation water management,” said Michael Stinebrink, the NRCS Resources Conservationist that worked with John.

Michael assessed the farm’s irrigation system to develop a water management plan.

Irrigation water management plays a crucial role in water conservation, and it can also save the producer money.

With the plan in hand, the Stauners were able to upgrade their leaky, undersized and above-ground sprinkler system to a more modern, high-density, underground system.

Growing Cranberries

Many believe cranberries are grown in water, but that’s not exactly the case.

For most of the year, cranberries grow on low running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. During harvest, the fields are flooded. The cranberries, which contain a small pocket of air, will then float to the surface where they can be harvested easier. For the cranberry farmer, water is an essential part of managing the bottom line.

“The upgraded system saves us a lot of water. It also enables us to get more uniformity on the cranberry bed when we do irrigate,” said John.

Through a partnership with the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, NRCS also helped the Stauners with pest management and nutrient management systems.

The Challenges of Organic

“There’s a science and art to cranberry farming,” said John.

Weed control is one of the biggest challenges on the farm. Weeds can quickly crowd out cranberry vines. To combat weeds without using harmful pesticides, they use mechanical clipping almost weekly.

Pest Management


“We rely on the biology of our healthy soil to break down our natural fertilizers."


 

For insect control, the Stauners rely on a new technology—mating disruption. Old techniques, such as flooding in the spring, also keep the insects under control.

Trying new approaches on a smaller scale has enabled John to find out what works. John can then incorporate those science-based technologies into everyday practices with less risk.

Healthy soil is also important.

“We rely on the biology of our healthy soil to break down our natural fertilizers,” said John.

The Benefits of Organic

Growing organic has helped the Stauner’s create habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. He’s seen three different types of native bumble bees—as well as spiders, snails, and other animals.

Vine Pollination

Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.

To help pollinate their vines, the Stauners use a combination of rented honey bees, purchased hives, and native pollinators.

Help attract pollinators to your farm, ranch or home.

The Stauner’s plan is to keep investing in the marsh by continuing to make improvements in the vines, equipment, facilities, and irrigation to add value and save resources.

John purchased 124-acres of cranberry marsh on the other side of town. He is currently transitioning that property to organic, to be certified for production in 2018.

"In the near future, we will work together with NRCS on the new irrigation system for that farm,” said John.

Farming for the Next Generation

John hopes for future generations of cranberry growers in the Stauner family.

“We have three grandchildren all being raised here on the property, learning about cranberries; that’s a very satisfying feeling and very rewarding.”

For now, the Stauners plan to enjoy the fruits of their labor for many years to come.


“We have three grandchildren all being raised here on the property, learning about cranberries; that’s a very satisfying feeling and very rewarding.”

-- John Stauner


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The Stauners plan to enjoy the fruits of their labor for many years to come.