Warrens Cranberry Festival berry contest marks 30 years

Wisconsin State Farmer
Myla Nemitz holds the trophy her mother Sandy Nemitz won 30 years ago at the first Warrens Cranberry Festival Biggest Berry Contest, while younger sister Ada is picking and eating cranberries right off the vine.

Sandy Nemitz was just 2-years-old when she won the very first Warrens Cranberry Festival's Biggest Berry Contest, which is celebrating its 30th year this year.

Nemitz received $25 and a trophy – which she still has – for entering a Pilgrim cranberry in 1987 that tipped the scales at 5.10 grams.

This year, Nemitz's two daughters – Myla, 5, and Ada, 3 – will be entering cranberries in the Biggest Berry Contest for the first time.

The deadline for entering cranberries in the 2017 Biggest Berry Contest is Sept. 19.

In honor of the 45th Warrens Cranberry Festival, this year's contest winner will receive a Best of Show ribbon and a $45 cash prize sponsored by Potter Cranberry Company.

The biggest cranberry in each variety class will receive a blue ribbon. New this year, the judges may award Honorable Mention ribbons at their discretion to entries close in weight to the biggest berry. 

Complete rules and entry form – as well as the festival brochure and other information – can be downloaded from the website.

Festival big part of her life

The Warrens Cranberry Festival has been a big part of Sandy Nemitz's life ever since she can remember. 

"When we were really little kids, my brother, David, and I would sell cookies and coffee in a friend's yard as they were parking cars. And when we got older, if we had baby guinea pigs, we would sell the baby guinea pigs at Cranfest. Which now looking back, I think that's just hilarious that we actually did that," Nemitz said, laughing.

Nemitz served as one of the two 1998-1999 Warrens Cranberry Festival Princesses and was the 2002-2003 Festival Queen.

In more recent years, Nemitz and her brother have switched from selling guinea pigs to selling fresh cranberries at in the Farmer's Market area of the Festival. Using an old-time cranberry mill, the pair along with other family members and friends demonstrate how cranberries used to be hand sorted.

"I enjoy having a booth at the festival because then I feel like I'm really involved with the event. The year that I was 9 months pregnant with Myla at Cranfest and had to miss having a booth, I  was really bored," Nemitz said.

Seventh-generation grower

A seventh-generation cranberry grower, Nemitz serves as the business manager of her family's James Potter Cranberry Marsh and Spring Valley Cranberries LLC. While she handles the accounting for the two marshes, Nemitz also is a hands-on manager and is often found driving haul trucks, pulling boom or wiping weeds.

The former Sandy Potter is married to Adam Nemitz. Adam and his parents own JR Nemitz Cranberry Company. Sandy serves as the bookkeeper for that marsh as well.

If that wasn't already enough to keep her busy, on Sept. 1 Sandy and Adam purchased a one-quarter interest in a neighboring cranberry marsh. 

"That's our newest venture. It's a 92-acre marsh with older vines, including some that were over 100 years old. We've started renovating it and planting it with the new cranberry hybrids and will be making it more labor efficient," she said.

Another venture the couple undertook in 2014 was to branch out into growing aronia, a shrub-like plant that produces clusters of blue-black berries with a passing resemblance to blueberries.

Sandy and Adam planted 24,000 aronia plants on 20 acres. They harvested 27,000 pounds of the flavorful fruit – also known as chokeberries – in late August.

To market the aronia berries, the couple and seven other farms started Aronia Growers, LLC, and hired marketers to help promote the fruit to trail mix makers, cereal companies and others.

The couple also partnered with Adam's sister and brother-in-law, Amy and Nathan Gebhardt, to form AroClean, LLC.

The two couples purchased equipment to clean and sort their aronia berries, as well as doing contract cleaning for other growers. The four will have a booth selling their sweet and dried aronia at this year's Cranberry Festival.