ALBANY TOWNSHIP — Tracyn Thayer does not remember wanting to be a farmer. She went straight from college to being an engineer.

But somehow, 30 or so years later, she operates and owns one of Maine’s only organic cranberry farms, Birch Bog Farm in Albany Township.

Tracyn Thayer harvests cranberries Oct. 10 at Birch Bog Farm in Albany Township. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

Maine is not in the top five states for cranberry production and likely doesn’t come close to the two highest producing states: Wisconsin with 60% of U.S. production and Massachusetts with 25%.

A Google search for Maine growers generates just five or six cranberry farms.

Thayer said Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association tried to connect her with a local organic farmer, but for cranberries, there weren’t any, thus they allowed the exception for her to connect with a Wisconsin organic cranberry farmer.

On Oct. 10, under steel-gray skies, Thayer is pushing a circa 1950 harvester through what looks like a tangled mess of vines. On closer view is an understory of ripe, red cranberries growing close to the ground.


The machine Thayer uses doesn’t cut, but instead rakes the berries like a comb. An elevator brings them up and dumps them in the box at the back. The motors on the machines have been updated but the machines themselves have been through many years of welding and other repairs and are very finicky.

She slowly circles the property pushing the horse-power harvester with two hands. When she fills a crate, she quickly and deftly trades one box for another.

Thayer, a former endurance athlete, recently made a comeback winning the women’s division of the Uphill Will race at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry on Sept. 23. Thayer ran uphill 26 times from the bottom of South Ridge to the top of the Chondola chair in 24 hours.

Tracyn Thayer harvests cranberries Oct. 10 at Birch Bog Farm in Albany Township. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

Like apples, dry-harvested cranberries will keep for three to six months. Wet-harvested berries have to go straight to juice.  The cranberry is protected while on the vine but once a wet-harvested berry is picked, it is unprotected from mold and mildew.

For Thayer, harvesting will take about a week. Water is pumped from an adjacent pond through a pump house to 31 sprinkler heads throughout the bog. The water helps when it is dry and hot.

Thayer offers a visitor a cranberry from the bog and notes that a cranberry apple pie is worth trying. Later she opens the freezer where she keeps homemade, cranberry-infused vodka.


When the berries come in from the field, various sorters speed the process. A leaf blower causes the non-aerodynamic berries to stay in the bin while everything else flies out. A second sort station has fans under a screened, homemade winnower bin. Sweeping the berries around the bin will cause more stems and sticks to fly out. Small rocks fall through the holes.

Finally, the 1913 12-foot-high, wooden sorter in the barn separates berries using “stairs.”

The passed-down story is that a peg-legged farmer dropped his cranberries down the steps in his barn discovering that only the good cranberries made it to the bottom step. The sorter mimics the process: the berries that bounce into the bottom crate are perfect. In the crate above it are ones that perhaps have a blemish or two. The bad ones show up in the highest bin.

Thayer watches the thermometer carefully in October. When there is threat of a frost she will spray a protective coat of water on the cranberries, like the orange growers do in Florida. Without a frost, the berries can stay on the vines longer and will get redder with colder temperatures. Ripening off the vine takes longer.

Winnie a “frogger” runs Oct. 10 past the cranberry crates ready for harvesting at Tracyn Thayer’s Birch Bog Farm in Albany Township. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

This year she hopes to harvest 500 pounds of cranberries, more than last year but less than the first year when many hands helped sort 9,000 pounds.

She is a little perplexed about why there are variations in yield. This year was perhaps because of the rain, but she isn’t sure.

Cranberry farming requires patience and acquiescence to weather and other external factors. It is not a tangible task like Thayer’s September race, but does require endurance and stick-to-itiveness.

Of the race, Thayer said she could have been done after her 25th lap up Sunday River but did 26 laps just to be sure her number of feet surpassed the height of Mount Everest – 29,029.

In late October, Thayer’s berries will be for sale at The Good Food Store on Mayville Road in Bethel. On Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the bog is open to pick your own, and/or to buy, “we-picked” berries. Birch Bog Farm is at 41 Dundee Road, Albany Township.

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