Cranberries: Good For You, But Not For Environment

The Healthy Foodie

A coastal Washington cranberry bog. Wisconsin produces the most cranberries in the U.S. and the way the cranberries are produced by big farming operations has destroyed thousands of the millions of acres of wetlands in the state.

A coastal Washington cranberry bog. Wisconsin produces the most cranberries in the U.S. and the way the cranberries are produced by big farming operations has destroyed thousands of the millions of acres of wetlands in the state.


Everyone has a good holiday cooking goof up story, right?

Well, so do I. In this one, I’ve changed the names to protect my familial relationships because, well, holidays are stressful enough!

So, Sarah has a favorite fresh cranberry recipe she makes every year.

It’s complicated.

It’s delicious.

It’s a sacrosanct tradition.

This year, as the crystal cut bowl filled with the luscious red treat was passed around, we all took a huge helping.

As we dug in, the looks on our faces changed from joy to muffled shock.

It wasn’t sweet.

It wasn’t even tasty.

It was salty!

A silence fell over the table as we all wondered what to do with our mouthful.

One by one, we all drained our water glasses.

Sarah took a bite and grimaced as realization dawned on her face.

Turns out, Sarah’s sister kept salt in a kitchen counter container that looked just like Sarah’s sugar container. “I used salt instead of the sugar!” she exclaimed.

We all had a good laugh, but went without cranberries on the turkey.

Fresh cranberry season runs from October through December — perfect timing for the holidays.

But the benefits of cranberries have us eating these tart little berries all year long.

According to the National Institutes of Health, those health benefits include:

1) More antioxidants than blueberries.

2) Anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which improve gum health and reduce risk for periodontal disease — as well as reducing inflammation.

3) Reducing the risk of urinary tract infections.

4) Possible reduced risk of breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer.

5) Cranberries have antibacterial and anti-viral properties that cleanse the blood and detoxify the liver.

Fresh cranberries pack the biggest nutritional punch compared to the sugar-infused juices, cocktails and sauces at the store.

Since the berries are at their peak October through December, buy and freeze them yourself or purchase frozen berries at the store.

But there’s a dark side to all of the benefits of cranberries — the farming techniques.

Conventional cranberry farming relies on lots of chemicals, according to an analysis done by the USDA Pesticide Data Program.

Contrary to the pictures, cranberries are not grown in pools of water. Farmers create a bog with layers of soil, peat, sand and clay, and then flood them with water during the harvest.

A water reel pulls the ripe berries off their vine. Then the berries float to the surface where farmers scoop them up.

Big farming operations then release the fertilizer and pesticide treated water into ditches that carry it to streams and lakes.

This has wreaked environmental havoc in states such as Wisconsin.

It might surprise you to learn, but Wisconsin produces the most cranberries in the U.S. In fact, it produces more than twice as many cranberries as Massachusetts.

This toxic method of farming, however, has destroyed thousands of the millions of acres of wetlands in the state.

Between the years 1970 and 1998, approximately 15,000 acres of wetlands in Wisconsin were lost, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Alas, water drained from the cranberry bogs has an exemption from the Clean Water Act.

And think about this: Some of those chemicals undoubtedly end up in the berries, which means your poor gut has to absorb them all.

Almost worse than the salt — except you can’t taste it.

Thankfully, there are organic options for cranberries including Fresh Meadow Farms, Cranberry Hill Farms and Starvation Alley.

Starvation Alley, out of the Pacific Northwest, has decided to go even farther and made a financial and educational commitment to change the way farmers grow cranberries. Starvation Alley helps farmers to go through the three-year process to get certified as organic.

Starvation Alley also buys the farmers’ fruit at a much higher price than the market pays. Starvation Alley then uses these high quality organic berries in fresh pressed juice, ice cream and beer.

So, next year for the holidays, I’m going to quietly buy Sarah an early present — organic cranberries and a huge bag of organic cane sugar.

Then I’ll hang around as she makes her cranberries — just to make sure it all goes right.

Pink Juice with Green Foam Homemade Cranberry Cocktail

2 cups water

Handful of fresh cranberries (approximately 1/4 - 1/3 cup)

8 teaspoons of erythritol or xylitol (alternative sugars)

Blend in a blender.


WSCGA 1 week, 5 days ago

Hi Michelle,  

On behalf Wisconsin cranberry growers, a few comments. You are right about health benefits of cranberries and I’m glad you shared a favorite family recipe, but I also want to address your comments about WI growing practices. For those interested in more information, please visit or view videos at You can also read a Univ. of WI Extension report on sustainable cranberry production at   

WI growers embody sustainable farming, committing to research and practices that reduce environmental impact. The majority of our growers work with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to create nutrient management plans, and 77% hire professional integrated pest management consultants to best manage the biological and ecological considerations of pest control. Additionally, 88% of growers use alternative practices to pesticides to manage pests.   

As for water, it is the lifeblood of our industry. Responsible use is of utmost importance and while some growers borrow water to flood cranberry beds for harvest, and it is always our goal to return that water in the same or better condition and quality, and studies show this to be the case.    

I wanted to make sure this information was put forward for your readers, as we disagree with the environmental statements in the article and urge readers to learn more. As for organic growers, we have many in WI and WSCGA represents several. Our growers use different growing practices to meet different consumer preferences and we respect both, without misrepresenting commercial growing practices.

-Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.