March 26, 2020
Mary Brazeau Brown is a FarmHer with a cran-do attitude! Yes, I said cran-do and for the record, that is all hers! Mary was adopted into a family in Wisconsin that was the steward of a large tract of land spanning forest, reservoir, wetlands and cranberry marshes. Mary’s mother oversaw the vast land that was in the family’s care and Mary grew up watching her and loving the land. While she knew at a young age that she wanted to spend her life caring for the land, it took her a few years and a few tries to fully return. Once she had the trust of her mother that she could care for the land not just then but for generations to come, there was no looking back. Today Mary and her family have not only been great stewards of the land, ensuring that it is a sanctuary for wildlife, healthy forest and thriving wetlands, but they also operate an array of cranberry marshes and have started a new business, Honestly Cranberry, as an outlet for the tart fruit they grow.
My FarmHer journey led me to Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, right in the heart of harvest at the family’s Glacial Lake Cranberries farm. It was a busy day as harvest always is, with a lot of moving parts. I met Mary first thing on the crisp fall day at the office. We took just a minute to learn about the area. The family’s land sits at the top of Glacial Lake Wisconsin which was a prehistoric lake that existed at the end of the last ice age, in the central part of present-day Wisconsin. This short history lesson gave me a better idea of why the area is so special today and why Mary and her family feel so strongly about the preservation of it.
We didn’t stop for long (I am pretty sure Mary doesn’t stop too often wherever she is!) and were off and running, out through the marsh and towards the cranberry beds. We were in a very old part of the farm with cranberry beds that were over 75 years old. They had already been flooded to prepare the berries for harvest and the crews were working quickly to get the berries out and on their way down the road.
Mary and I put on some waders and headed out into the cold water to get a closer look at the berries. Once out there we scooped up handfuls and she explained that the berries start on the vines (which we were standing on). Then a harvester comes through and rakes the berries off the vines and all of the good berries float to the top of the water. She broke open one of the tart berries and showed me four chambers inside that, when, intact, allow the berry to float. From there we watched the harvest crew work to corral the berries up close to the edge of the bed where another machine lifted them out of the water, sent them up a conveyor where they were rinsed and dumped into a waiting truck. Mary and I made our way back out of the water and once the truck was full, followed that back out of the marsh and to the first step in processing back at the main farm.
There we followed the berries to where they were dumped, sorted, washed and packed into huge totes. From there they make their way down the road to the freezer before going to a last stop, Honestly Cranberry.
This is Mary’s newest creation, a company that dries and packages the cranberries for consumption, just as nature intended. She shared with me that most dried cranberries have quite a bit of added sugars, but they came up with a proprietary process to freeze then dry their berries with no added sugars, juices or oils, leaving just the true tart taste of the berry!
Mary is a FarmHer through and through. From a deep love of the land and a drive to be the best steward she can be, to the entrepreneuring spirit that so many FarmHers have, she is an inspiration to so many. I just loved her spunky spirit and drive to spread her “Cran-do” attitude far and wide!
See where cranberries got their name!
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