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We are in the month of love, and it is no coincidence February is also widely recognized as American Heart Month. Cupid, cards and cranberries are all sweet ways to tell someone you care. More than just a holiday side dish, those tangy treats have a healthy impact on our state.

It is hard to not fall in love with the history of cranberries. The cranberry was once called a “crane berry” by settlers because its blossom resembled a sandhill crane. Cranberries were first harvested in Wisconsin around 1860 in Berlin. They became Wisconsin’s official state fruit in 2004. Today, our cranberry growers produce 64 percent of the nation’s supply. To put the harvest into numbers, production totaled 5.37 million barrels in 2017, and each of those barrels weighed about 100 pounds. Wisconsin’s total cranberry production was more than twice that of the next leading state, Massachusetts.

Those cranberries are grown on 21,000 acres across 20 counties in Wisconsin. The sand and peat marshes in central and northern Wisconsin create ideal conditions for the fruit. Cranberries pack a punch with a nearly $1 billion economic impact. The industry also provides nearly 4,000 jobs, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

It warms my heart to share the story of our 250 cranberry growers. In October, I had the chance to visit a marsh. After slipping on a pair of hip waders and climbing into Wetherby Cranberry Company’s bog, I was amazed by the technology used during harvest. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. The fruit grows on low-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. Those marshes are flooded with water so the tiny, tart berries float to the surface. They are collected by harvesting equipment from late September to October.

Fresh, Wisconsin cranberries are perfect partners for Thanksgiving turkey, but fresh berries only represent 5 percent of the total crop. The other 95 percent is processed into sauce, juice, dried fruit and other foods. In fact, cranberries are found in more than 1,000 food and beverage products on the market.

We may be out of fresh cranberry season, but cranberries can be frozen for up to a year, so your local grocery store can carry this favorite year-round. Trying to keep up with my 2019 resolutions, I recently bought frozen and dried cranberries since they are among the highest of all fruits in antioxidants. Studies show antioxidants can help improve heart health while supporting a strong immune system. Cranberries are also great sources of fiber and vitamins. Since I’m always on the go as Alice, I’ve discovered delicious cranberry recipes that make breakfast easy and nutritious. I’ll share a couple of my favorites below!  

This month, I am going to continue sharing my love of Wisconsin agriculture. How will you let someone know you care? You can find ideas and sweet recipes online at wiscran.org, or by following my adventures at aliceindairyland.com.

Superfood Smoothie

½ cup yogurt

½ cup milk

½ cup frozen Wisconsin cranberries

1 tbsp. Wisconsin Honey

Combine ingredients in blender and mix well. Add additional honey for extra sweetness. Enjoy!

Cranberry Breakfast Bites

¾ cup peanut butter

3 tbsp. Wisconsin honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup old fashioned oat

¼ cup dried Wisconsin cranberries

Combine peanut butter, honey and vanilla in a bowl. Microwave and mix together. Add oats and cranberries. Shape the mixture into individual cookies. Refrigerate and enjoy!

Kaitlyn Riley is Wisconsin's 71st Alice in Dairyland

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Read or Share this story: https://www.wisfarmer.com/story/opinion/columnists/2019/01/29/hearty-look-wisconsin-cranberries/2715142002/