Nantucket’s annual Cranberry Festival is no more.
The festival has been a tradition on the island for decades - typically held on the Saturday of Columbus Day Weekend - but the Nantucket Conservation Foundation stated this week that it was pivoting away from the event as the production of cranberries at its bogs continued to decline.
Instead, the Conservation Foundation is focusing on expanding its new Batacular Bike Race in October to include a full day of family activities and music at the Milestone Cranberry Bog.
“We have moved away from the Cranberry Festival, as the production of cranberries has been smaller over the years,” said Allison Levy, the Conservation Foundation’s marketing and outreach manager. “We are looking forward to our new Batacular Fall Fun Day to be an exciting way to engage with the island community at the Bogs and showcase the beauty of fall on Nantucket.”
Last year the Conservation Foundation announced that the Cranberry Festival was merging with the annual Island Fair to create a joint event dubbed the Nantucket Harvest Fair. But organizers of the Island Fair this year announced that it had become a charitable fund under the Community Foundation for Nantucket which is unaffiliated with the town of NCF. It is planning a one-day event this Sunday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Children’s Beach.
Cranberries have been harvested on the island for more than 150 years, but production has been reduced significantly over the past four years.
The Nantucket Conservation Foundation had long operated two large-scale cranberry bogs on the island, including the Milestone Cranberry Bog and the Windswept Cranberry Bog off Polpis Road. Once a certified organic cranberry bog, the Windswept bog was retired from cultivation in 2019 following a vote by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and is currently in the process of being restored to a naturally functioning wetland.
As recently as 2018, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation was cultivating more than 150 acres, harvesting more than 2,000 barrels of cranberries, and generating revenues of more than $325,000.
That same year, the Milestone Bog officially earned its organic certification, but that conversion “has meant reduced cranberry harvest putting our cranberry harvest under considerable financial pressure. This led us to again look at our operation, finally taking the decision to mothball cranberry production at Windswept, explore returning the bog to a natural vegetative state, and concentrate our cranberry production on 75 acres of bog at Milestone,” according to NCF’s annual report for that year. The Foundation’s cranberry operations produced a net loss of $503,000, primarily due to damage from a late infestation of fireworms and “region-wide economic challenges.”
By 2020, cranberry cultivation was down to just 30 acres, with yields dropping to 150 barrels and revenues of just over $11,000, due to extreme weather events and further economic challenges. That led the Foundation to again reduce its cranberry operation and eliminate the wet harvesting technique.
“The cost for wet harvest and shipping to the mainland is too high for the Foundation to justify its continued support,” according to the organization's 2020 annual report. “For 2021, Milestone Cranberry Bog will reduce acreage to what it believes will support the local community. Fresh fruit will fetch a higher price at market, providing Milestone a better opportunity to become a sustainable operation. The focus of the operation will no longer be solely on fruit production, but on community outreach as well.”
Levy, the NCF marketing and outreach coordinator, emphasized that the Batacular Bike Race had a great turnout last year and that elements of the cranberry festival - such as hayrides and food trucks - will be incorporated into the expanded event on Oct. 29.
“The bike race started last year and had a great turnout of local bikers to race through the trails throughout the middle moors,” Levy said. “We are extending this event to include a full day of family fun, where we will have food trucks, hayrides, family activities, a puppet show, and a live performance by Dalton and the Sheriffs. We are not charging an entrance fee for this event. We want to welcome the community to celebrate NCF’s 60th anniversary year and enjoy a beautiful fall day at the Milestone Cranberry Bog. We will of course be selling cranberries at this event as well.”