Area locavores have something new to look forward to soon: big, fresh, juicy, red cranberries right here in Killingworth.
To many, it’s a secret that there is a viable cranberry bog nestled on Pond Meadow Road. Now, thanks to agricultural expert and fifth generation Bishop Farm family member, Keith Bishop, three acres of the original 30 plus acre bog will be up and running in full production in about three years. Hopes are that the bog’s restorations will once again crown Killingworth as the cranberry capital of Connecticut.
The original bog was reportedly purchased in 1896 by the Evart family, who have continually grown cranberries there ever since. It was the only commercially producing cranberry bog in Connecticut. Twenty-five acres of the bog were in production at its peak.
The Evarts and the Bishops came together when Bishop Orchards Farm Market in Guilford started selling the local fruits in the 70’s. In 2000, the Killingworth Land Trust purchased a portion of the bog and the stewardship has maintained a limited wild production of cranberries there.
Cranberries are somewhat of a fickle fruit, requiring just the right conditions for growth such as an adequate, fresh water supply, a growing season that extends from April to November and acidic soil with peat and clay. The parcel of land off Pond Meadow Road happens to have the perfect conditions for this crimson, tart crop to prosper in.
Believed to have originated from glacial deposits, bogs are layered with sand, peat and clay that grow the cranberries on low-lying vines in beds. They were originally a hardy Native American wetland fruit that are said to grow indefinitely if not damaged. In fact, some famous Cape Cod cranberries have histories dating back over 100 years.
The Killingworth bog will be yielding a new hybrid variety of cranberries called Scarlet Knight, which were developed by Rutgers University breeding program. According to Bishop, who is undertaking this business endeavor on his own, this specific variety of cranberries was chosen because they produce a large, dark red, long keeping berry, which is well suited for retail fresh fruit sales from late September through the winter months.
With a family history steeped in agricultural expertise, preservation of farmland and production of bountiful local crops, Bishop seems like the perfect person to undertake this project. With a passion for new projects, he is excited about bringing back such a distinctive part of Killingworth’s rich history by renovating the bog.
“Stewardship of our natural r esources is a natural for farm families,” says Bishop of his new undertaking. “This bog will provide a healthy local food source, re-create a more diverse habitat, provide seasonal work and hopefully inspire others.”
To get started on this renovation mission, Bishop called on contacts from Cornell University (the college he graduated from in 1977 with a BS in Agricultural Economics) and connected with cranberry growers and suppliers in New Jersey and Massachusetts. He extensively researched the innards of the business of cranberry production.
Bishop also attended an intensive University of Massachusetts/Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association continuing education class along with his father, Al, and his son, Ryan (a senior at Cornell majoring in Plant Science). From there, he consulted with experts to evaluate the soil of the property, the growing conditions, water management and renovation requirements. He then formulated a business plan.
January of this year marked the acceptance of the bog renovation plan by the Killingworth Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission. The property was then officially purchased from Sandy Evart's children and grandchildren (all of whom have other jobs and interests that preclude them form active involvement in the work to keep the bog productive and to keep ownership in the family) in June.
Wasting no time, Bishop began renovations in July and has hopes (along with his four children) of bringing the bog to full production in 2016 with several decades of cranberry crops for years to come.
“I love challenges and new opportunities,” says Bishop positively.
“Diversity has helped our family to weather the farming cycles in the past. This opportunity may be a semi-retirement way, in the next six to seven years, to step out of the day to day management at Bishop’s Orchard and allow the sixth generation of Bishops the opportunity to take a bigger role in that business. This will keep me busy, occupied and excited about something new.”
So local chefs, cooks and cranberry lovers start stock piling your favorite cranberry recipes-test them out and hone them to perfection readying them for this future native crop to once again hit the shelves at Bishop Orchards Farm Market.