by Kerry O'Leary
"Cranberry farming is no simple task. Cranberries require a very specific environment in order for the vines to mature and bear fruit year after year."
As you head north along Highway 65 you can't help but take notice of the transforming terrain. Densely populated neighborhoods and tall buildings quickly turn into desolate winding backroads surrounded by marshy wetlands, lined with weathered pines and roaming wildlife. Just two hours north of the Twin Cities' Lakes & Legends taproom, nestled in the northern wetlands along the banks of the mighty Mississippi you'll find the Minnesota Cranberry Company, the state's only commercial cranberry farm. Owned and operated by Randy Forester and his family, the farm has grown significantly since its humble beginning in 2001.
Randy, the storyteller, as he's fondly referred to amongst the brewery staff, shares stories of days long since passed. You'll find remnants of his former lives working in the Arctic Circle building towns along the ice roads to his days deconstructing the Minnesota railways proudly displayed throughout the farm. Nowadays, Randy spends most of his time working as the only full-time family member on the farm. Wife, Billie Jo, joins her husband on the farm when she isn't working at her own business in town, Aitkin Quilts & Fabrics.
Randy and Billie Jo have truly made the farm a family affair. Not only have they passed down the trade of their craft to their children but also their self-starting and entrepreneurial spirits. Although cranberries and their Ocean Spray partnership is the farm's main revenue source, a portion of their land is reserved for wild rice and soybean crops as well as raising livestock.
The Forester's four children have not only taken on the family business in stride but have happily taken it upon themselves to expand the farm's offerings: Samantha - 19, is currently serving in the National Guard; Amanda - 17, a PSEO junior and crowned Beef Princess, has begun raising a small herd of cattle; Shannon - 16, spends her days between school competing in rodeos and being groomed to be her dad's right hand woman in the family business; and Nathan - 10, not only helps out at the farm but is something of a green thumb himself as he's grown and sold his own produce.
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