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Cranberry Craze

The tart berry has taken the U.S. and the world by storm

John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

About 20 percent of the cranberries grown in the U.S. are eaten on Thanksgiving Day. You can thank General Ulysses S. Grant for that. He declared cranberries a Turkey Day must-have in 1864, during the Civil War. Since then, the berries have become beloved in all forms—from canned jellies to salad-topping dried cranberries.

“Cranberries’ signature flavor comes from their very low sugar content and the fact that they are very rich in chemicals called tannins, which add bitterness,” says Karen Cahill, a spokesperson for the Cranberry Marketing Committee.

The berries grow on vines in marshy wetlands with sandy soil called bogs. Growers flood the bogs when it’s time to harvest the fruit. They then use a machine to shake the vines to release the berries, which float to the surface. That makes it easy to gather them. 

Farmers in the U.S. grow a lot of cranberries. And about 20 percent of them are eaten on Thanksgiving Day! You can thank General Ulysses S. Grant for that. He declared cranberries a Thanksgiving must-have in 1864, during the Civil War. Since then, the berries have become popular in many forms. People serve cranberry jelly at the Thanksgiving table. They sprinkle dried cranberries on salads and more.

“Cranberries’ signature flavor comes from their very low sugar content,” says Karen Cahill. She’s a spokesperson for the Cranberry Marketing Committee. “They are [also] very rich in chemicals called tannins, which add bitterness.”

Cranberries grow on vines. They live in bogs, which are marshy wetlands with sandy soil. When it’s time to harvest the fruit, growers flood the bogs with water. Then they use a machine to shake the vines. This releases the berries, which float to the surface. That makes it easy to gather them. 

Cranberries, blueberries, and Concord grapes are the only commercially grown fruits native to North America. Native Americans used all three extensively for food, medicine, and dye.

Commercial growing of cranberries began in 1816 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Today, Massachusetts is the second-largest producer of cranberries in the U.S. Cranberries are the state’s biggest food crop as well as the official state berry.

But they aren’t just a New England crop. Around 1860, a man named Edward Sackett traveled from New York to Wisconsin to inspect land. He found 700 acres of wild cranberry vines, cultivated the marshes, and sold his cranberries in Chicago for $15 a barrel. (A barrel sells for about $45 today.) Sackett’s legacy lives on: Today, Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the world!

Farmers grow many fruits to sell in North America. But only three are native to the continent: Cranberries, blueberries, and Concord grapes. Native Americans used all three fruits quite often. They turned them into food, medicine, and dye.

Growers began selling cranberries in 1816 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Today, Massachusetts is the second-largest source of cranberries in the U.S. Cranberries are the state’s biggest food crop. They’re also the official state berry!

But cranberries aren’t just a New England crop. Around 1860, a man named Edward Sackett traveled from New York to Wisconsin. He went there to inspect the land. He found 700 acres of wild cranberry vines. Sackett decided to start tending the marshes. Soon he sold his cranberries in Chicago for $15 a barrel. (A barrel sells for about $45 today.) Sackett’s legacy lives on today. Wisconsin is now the top producer of cranberries in the world!

Recently, cranberries have taken the world by storm. Over 7 percent of the cranberries grown in the U.S. are exported to China. That’s a big jump considering that cranberries only became popular in China five years ago. Before then, there wasn’t even a word in Mandarin or Cantonese for the fruit!

Unfortunately, the berries got caught up in the U.S. trade war with China. Earlier this year, the U.S. government imposed tariffs, or taxes on imports and exports, on Chinese products like steel. In retaliation, China proposed tariffs on many U.S. crops—including cranberries. These tariffs would raise cranberry prices in China by up to 40 percent.

“China is an important market for U.S. cranberries, and tariffs could be detrimental to U.S. cranberry growers.” says Cahill.

Recently, cranberries have taken the world by storm. Over 7 percent of the cranberries grown in the U.S. are exported to China. That may not sound like a lot. But it’s a big jump considering that cranberries became popular in China only five years ago. Before then, two Chinese languages didn’t even have a word for the fruit!

Unfortunately, the berries got caught up in the U.S. trade war with China. Earlier this year, the U.S. government announced tariffs on Chinese products like steel. A tariff is an extra tax on an imported or exported product. As payback, China proposed tariffs on many U.S. crops—including cranberries. These tariffs would raise cranberry prices in China by up to 40 percent. That means fewer people might buy the fruit.

“China is an important market for U.S. cranberries,” says Cahill. “Tariffs could be detrimental to U.S. cranberry growers.”    

The chart below shows the U.S. cranberry production in the 21st century. Use it to answer the following questions. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

The chart below shows the U.S. cranberry production in the 21st century. Use it to answer the following questions. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

On a separate sheet of paper, draw and label a line graph based on the data set.

On a separate sheet of paper, draw and label a line graph based on the data set.

A. What did you use for the scale on your x-axis? Why?

A. What did you use for the scale on your x-axis? Why?

B. What did you use for the scale on your y-axis? Why?

B. What did you use for the scale on your y-axis? Why?

What trend do you see in this graph?

What trend do you see in this graph?

Why is a line graph a good fit for this data set? Why not a bar graph or a circle graph?

Why is a line graph a good fit for this data set? Why not a bar graph or a circle graph?

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