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Peter Paquin likes what he sees in the harvest.
Peter Paquin likes what he sees in the harvest.

Cranberries bumper crop in Brasher Falls

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Looking for that local touch for your Thanksgiving table? Try cranberries, fresh from a bog in northern St. Lawrence County. Peter Paquin owns Deer River Cranberries in Brasher Falls.

He says local sales of his cranberries have grown fivefold. He sells to North Country apple orchards and stores in Potsdam and Lake Placid. Paquin says people even drive up to the farm to load up coolers full of berries. "Yeah, they basically come in with coolers and we fill 'em up, basically 50 pounds in a cooler," says Paquin. "We've probably sold to 20 different people in the area, a hundred pounds each. We're moving a lot of berries locally."

Paquin says the hot, dry summer and the recent freezing nights have meant a late harvest. But he says cranberries remain as lucrative a crop as ever. David Sommerstein visited Paquin's cranberry bogs in 2008.

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Psst.  Peter Paquin’s got one word for you.  Just one word.  No, no, it’s not “plastics”.  It’s cranberries.

Cranberry bogs.  I don’t know of a better spot to put in bog.

Yes, Paquin, a Cape Cod native, a 30-year veteran cranberry farmer is digging his future in northern New York.  He’s turned flat hay fields in the town of Brasher into 53 acres of cranberry bogs.

[swish, swish]

Paquin’s a subdued guy with white hair and a denim jacket and jeans.  He bought this land at auction when he learned there was flat land north of the Adirondacks.  He’s standing on the edge of what looks like a perfectly square five acre swimming pool.  The water’s just a foot deep. 

A cranberry “bog” is kind of a misnomer, Paquin says.  It’s only flooded for the harvest.

I like to use the word, bed, because that’s what they are.  They’re not boggy or swampy or anything like that.  They’re built right on dry ground.

The third thing, and Paquin really perks up at this, is that cranberries are lucrative.  It costs, he says, about 10,000 dollars to dig and grade this five acre bed and then plant cranberry vines.  But after three years, it’ll produce 125,000 pounds of berries every year for decades, no replanting.  At 65 cents a pound, Paquin’s making good money.

Better than corn!  More profitable.  Once it’s established, it’s more profitable than anything I know of.

[sound of machine]

It’s harvest time.  A machine trolls through the water.  It agitates the submerged cranberry plants underwater. Like magic the entire surface turns bright red after a few minutes.

Just basically taking the berries, knocking them off the vine under the water and the berries float to the surface, and it’s cheap to do.

Paquin scoops up a handful and examines them in his palm.

Good color.  Perfect color.  Actually exceptional color.  Just deep maroon.  Cranberry color {laugh}.  Same color as cranberry juice.

Now all that’s left is to wade in with booms and corral the berries towards a pipe that pumps the fruit into a waiting truck.  Sonny Morrison’s a friend of Paquin’s from Massachusetts who helps slog through the bog.

It gets hard at three o’clock.  Your back is killin’ ya.  Your legs are killin’ ya.  But, hey, it’s a couple bucks.

The cranberries are trucked to Massachusetts and Canada for processing.  They’re made into craisins, juice, sauce, cranberry powders for medicinal uses.  The market’s always growing, Paquin says.  He says more people should get into cranberries.

Gary Reardon of nearby Bombay is catching the bug.  He’s planting his first bed this fall.

A friend of mine was working here and he kept telling me, you oughta get involved in the cranberries.  So I came over.  I’ve been watching Peter.  And I’m learning the business.

Paquin walks me out onto a dry cranberry bed.  The plants are ankle-high, a thick, deep red, five acre carpet.

If you walk, you can hear a few of the berries pop.

This plot will be ready for harvest next year.  And Paquin’s planting dozens more acres.  Soon he’ll produce more cranberries in the North Country than he does back in Cape Cod.

 

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