Cranberry farmers tend bogs at a distance during pandemic

May 9, 2020

While many businesses have closed completely or radically shifted their way of working, many cranberry farmers are working largely as normal.

The work required in the bogs early in the season is largely solitary, so workers can mostly continue as normal. 

Linda Burke, the vice president of communications for A.D. Makepeace, said that most of the equipment, including trucks, is only used by one employee, and shared equipment is regularly sanitized. The company, based in Wareham, also has field and office facilities in Rochester, Carver, and Plymouth.

Additionally, the vast majority of the company’s office staff are now working from home.

“We had expected this, so before the shutdown order occurred, we looked at all our operations,” Burke said, explaining that the company began assigning trucks to workers and securing sufficient personal protective equipment before Baker’s orders went into effect in March.

“This is a critical time of year for the cranberry crop,” James Kane, the president and CEO of A.D. Makepeace, said. “Our team is out protecting the cranberry vines from frost, clearing bog ditches and barge sanding, and undertaking other tasks that ensure the crop is a healthy one.”

Brian Wick, the executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association, said that the growers he has been in touch with are most worried about how the pandemic will impact the fall harvest.

Many growers rely on workers from out of the state or out of the country who may not be allowed to travel and work in the bogs this fall. Social distancing will be much harder to practice while harvesting the berries, and it seems possible that there will be a second wave of the disease this fall. 

Wick said that widespread testing could ease the difficulties of the harvest season. 

“When the harvest does come, they’re going to have to take whatever measures are necessary. We’re very fortunate that we’re not one of those crops that’s being harvested now,” Wick said.

The growers struggling now are mostly those who rely on income from a non-farming job to support their farm, Wick said. 

Wick also noted that the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture has been proactively working with farmers across the state to support them throughout the pandemic.

A.D. Makepeace is also working to give back to the community during the pandemic. 

The company hosted a blood drive for the American Red Cross on May 1, which was such a success that they are planning a second drive. 

“Circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have left us looking for a meaningful way to truly assist those who need us,” said Kane, who personally donated blood during the event.

The drive was conducted in accordance with the Red Cross’ new social distancing guidelines: no walk-in appointments, thorough cleanings between donors, and a mask requirement for all donors. 

“We were thrilled that so many people wanted to donate blood at this time -- appointments were booked up almost immediately after we announced the drive,” Kim Houdlette, A.D. Makepeace’s director of community relations, said.

The next drive is currently being planned, and the date has not yet been announced.