Holiday Traditions

Holiday celebrations are rooted in tradition. The acts of kissing under the mistletoe, leaving cookies for Santa, and frying potatoes in oil set apart these special times. We may not know the origin of each tradition, yet we repeat it every year because it provides a sense of belonging, of being part of a group such as friends, family, or a religious affiliation. No matter the significance of the traditions, we repeat them annually and look forward to them throughout the year.

Food is central to several of our timeless traditions, as eating is a communal activity, yet many people do not understand the process of food production. Many of us in the United States feel fortunate to have full plates but still do not comprehend the farm-to-fork process, including its benefits and effects. Modern agriculture is far more efficient, productive and environmentally minded than a hundred years ago, and it’s important that consumers understand the process that sustains their holiday traditions.

Cranberries, for instance, have gone from being a slowly hand-picked plant to a major crop in the U.S. Different from most fruits, cranberries grow in bogs which are wetlands that are important for biodiversity. To harvest cranberries for juices, sauces, or ingredients, farmers use a “wet harvest” process and flood the bog with up to 18 inches of water the night before. Then, they use water reels and brooms to dislodge the berries from their vines and collect them. To dry harvest fresh berries for the market, farmers use rakes to dislodge the berries and then sometimes fly them out with a helicopter to protect the vines. These highly developed processes help farmers maximize yield while preserving the land.

Complicating the process, however, are at least eight and as many as fifteen fungal pathogens that can cause significant crop loss.[1] In Massachusetts and New Jersey, which produce 33% of U.S. production, early rot infects all cranberry beds and can cause 100% losses if not controlled.[2] Using synthetic chemical fungicides, farmers have reduced cranberry fruit rot losses from less than 1% to 15% annually.[3] With modern agriculture and the use of crop protection products, growers can reduce crop threats and ensure they meet production goals.

Numerous recipes and holiday traditions rely on the cranberry: cranberry sauce, berry pies, candied cranberries, cranberries strung around the tree, holiday punch. The loss of this fruit would drastically alter our holiday experience and the way we celebrate these special times. As we gather for office potlucks or family suppers in the early afternoon, try to remember the hard work of growers. Without their devotion and the technological advances of modern agriculture, we would not have the food on which our holiday traditions depend.

[2] Hickey, K.D. 1991. Fungicide Benefits Assessment Fruit and Nut Crops – East. USDA National Agricultural Pesticide Impact Assessment Program.

[3] Oudemans, P.V. et al.1998. Cranberry fruit rot in the Northeast: a complex disease. Plant Disease. 82(11):1176-1184.


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