Thanksgiving’s Not-So-Secret Sauce

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Ocean Spray supports America’s family farms

Not to put a damper on anyone’s Thanksgiving, but the small family farm, which produces a meaningful portion of the dishes on America’s holiday tables, is in crisis. Many are struggling amid stiffening regulations, mounting financial pressures, competition from agribusiness giants and, of course, climate change.

One group of family farms has bucked this trend—the 700+ cranberry growers across the U.S., Canada and Chile who make up the cooperative that owns Ocean Spray Cranberries and produce two-thirds of the world’s cranberry harvest.

Ocean Spray, as everyone knows, is all about cranberries, cranberry juices and cranberry-derived comestibles. Its signature jellied cranberry sauce, that jiggling red cylinder of goodness, is as closely identified with Thanksgiving as the turkey itself. As owners of the company, the growers receive 100% of the profits made from their fruit, enabling them to plough those dollars back into improvements to their farms, their land and the quality of their crop, according to the company’s website.

This cycle of reinvestment has enabled the farmers to keep their farms running for generations—a business model that dates back to the company’s founding in 1930. Today, Carpenter Group notes, the Ocean Spray brand reflects that operating model and the company’s statement of purpose: “Connecting our farms to families for a better life.”

On their farm in Bandon, Oregon, Steve and Gary Gant work alongside their father, Tom, who at 89 remains actively involved in day-to-day operations. It was Tom’s dad, Elmer, who started the farm in the depths of the Great Depression, borrowing $300 to buy a small plot of land where he hand-planted his first cranberry bog.

“Farming quickly became our family’s way of life, and my siblings and I were raised to appreciate the land we farmed,” says Tom. This respect was passed down to Steve and Gary—the third generation to produce Ocean Spray cranberries on the property. The brothers hope that their children and grandchildren will continue the tradition.

Before getting into the cranberry business, Matt Beaton’s great-great grandfather was a potato farmer who lived off the land. “It’s always been that way in our family,” Matt says. “Be one with the land, experience nature, and do what you enjoy. For me, that’s growing cranberries. Every day brings something different, whether it’s waking up early to protect the berries from the spring frost, flooding the bog for the harvest, or trading stories with the team.”

This Thanksgiving, American families will consume some 40,000 tons of cranberries as well as over 5 million tons of jellied cranberry sauce throughout the holiday season. “When you buy and consume an Ocean Spray product,” says Steve Gant, “I take it personally because our family farm is tied to it.”