The Garden State has a rich cranberry history. Industrial cultivation of the fruit began here in the 1840s, and by 1910 there were 12,000 acres of production—as large as anywhere in the country. It has always been a top producer of cranberries, and one of the most important discoveries in cranberry production happened here. In the 1840s, a New Jersey grower named John “Peg Leg” Webb reportedly had trouble carrying a barrel of cranberries down some steps, on account of his wooden leg. The barrel tipped and the cranberries tumbled. He noticed something peculiar—the good ones bounced to the bottom of the steps, while the bad ones stayed put. Peg Leg’s discovery is more than just an industry legend—it led to the development of bounce sorters which the industry still uses to this day.
Today, New Jersey and its growers cultivate about 3,500 acres of the fruit, producing about 550,000 barrels a year. And though cranberries grow in the wild throughout the state, the best soil conditions—highly acidic, sandy on top and mucky below—are found in South Jersey counties such as Burlington, Atlantic and Ocean.
Ocean Spray has been working in New Jersey since its very beginning—one of the Cooperative’s founders, Elizabeth Lee, had a cranberry operation in New Egypt, New Jersey. Today, Ocean Spray has 20 Grower-Owners in the state, along with a receiving facility in Chatsworth.
The Lee Family has been farming cranberries since 1868, when Stephen Lee, an Irish engineer purchased roughly 2,000 acres in New Jersey. The family’s farm, Lee Brothers Inc., joined the Ocean Spray Cooperative in 1952. Today, Stephen Lee III oversees a successful cranberry, blueberry and forestry business with his wife, Mary Ann, a retired nurse. Their son, Stephen IV, manages day-to-day operations and lives on the property with his wife, Monica, and two sons, Andrew and Patrick. Stephen and Mary Ann’s daughters, Patricia and Jennifer, and their families also support the farm during the annual harvest. The Lees are an innovative, highly respected farm family, carrying on a legacy that has now reached seven generations!