Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day Six of our Caravan / Rally

We've had a great time on the caravan / rally and today was no exception. We departed the campground at 8:15 (which is early by RV user standards) and drove to the Wetherby farmstead/marsh/bog. I was afraid that we were the first ones, but there were already 3 cars there. (I guess we were early enough.) But it didn't take long for our hostess to announce that she was starting the first tour early, so gather around. (Perhaps a dozen cars or more, and more coming in.)

She told us a little bit of cranberry history (we've heard most of it) and then told us what we were going to see. She was in no hurry since they were still setting up the equipment across the bog. The machine used to remove the berries from the bog was a big blue contraption that sucked the berries and lots of water up a 6 inch pipe to an upper sifting rack. In the upper sifting rack, the berries were separated from the leaves and other trash and rolled on to a conveyor to be elevated onto the semi truck. The water, leaves and other trash ran down a chute into a dump truck that had a drain to allow the excess water to run directly into the adjoining berry bog. To keep the berries moving towards the entry, they used a fire hose to move all of the berries towards the opening funnel. Further more, all of the berries in the bog were corralled by a hose laying on the water much like that used to contain oil slicks.

It was then back to the main buildings where she gave us a quick tour of the primary sorting machine. Because of concerns that bad bugs might live in wood, they had to replace the berry grader that had been used by her father for 40 years. They now have a stainless steel computer driven assembly that uses ultraviolet light and air to pick out the bad berries and give them the boot. It also detects off color berries and uses a blast of air to send them to the juice mill. Finally, the last grading stage was where two women sit and manually watch the moving berries and do a final check. The last stage was the bagging machine which could automatically weigh and bag the finished product.

They have an exclusive contract with a distributor to market their berries under the Wetherby name. When a competing store wanted to sell the same berries, Wetherby's set up a second brand (much like our Itasca brand of the Winnebago motorhomes) so that they can market the same quality of berry to other stores.

She also demonstrated to us two methods of removing the berries from the vines, one using an automatic rake and the other a dragging rake. Either way you look at it, the harvesting of the berries is a labor intensive project, in a cold wet environment. Having seen enough, we went back to the store area and bought a good supply of berries and two bottles of cranberry wine. I guess if you can't sell all of the berries, you juice them and make wine to sell.

We left the marsh after a couple of hours and went back to the motorhome. There, we said our good-bys and bid everyone in our group a great winter. A couple were staying in the park another night. We decided to head south to a city park where we might have better success getting some TV reception. Others were hoping to put some miles on going west and south.

So ends our 6 days of the caravan/rally. While it was a small group, we had a great time and learned much. Growing apples or cranberries is no easy task and requires lots of input. One just doesn't realized the amount of effort needed to make the product appear in the store in a clean plastic bag.

Tonight we're settled in to a city park in the little town of Viola, WI. Nothing fancy, we have neighbors and the price is half of the county park


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