Cranberries, Conservation and Collaboration

NJ Audubon Mascot “Pileated Pete” always ready for a selfie. Photo by Danielle Bara

New Jersey Audubon staff greeted hundreds of cyclers this past weekend as part of the Garden State Farm To Fork Fondo. The event, which consisted of a bicycle ride through NJ’s only globally recognized biosphere reserve known as the NJ Pine Barrens, included stops that provided opportunities to sample chef-prepared foods from some of the iconic pinelands farmlands and meet the farm families working hard to produce those healthy fresh foods! As part of the event, each farm is assigned a team that represents a charitable organization working in the region. Nonprofit teams compete for donations by making sure each and every cyclist has a great experience by being creative, enthusiastic and memorable with their interactions with the participants. At the end of the ride participating cyclists vote for their favorite non-profit team and farm and determine the size of the donation given to the team by the sponsors of the event.

Lee Brothers Inc. has been stewarding the land since 1868. Photo courtesy of Lee Brothers

NJ Audubon was honored to represent the Lee Brothers, Inc. cranberry and forestry farm! Much like NJ Audubon that has been stewarding the land since 1897, Lee Brothers has been doing the same in the NJ Pinelands since 1868! Members of the Ocean Spray Grower-Owned Cooperative since 1952, the Lee family also has the distinction of being the first landowner in the Pinelands to have a Forest Stewardship Plan approved by the State. Since then, many other properties in the Pinelands have developed and implemented state approved forest plans. The plans call for active management and stewardship of the forests to ensure watershed and forest health. Through the implementation of ecological forestry practices, such a prescribed burning, forest thinning, and reforestation plantings, the Lee family ensures they can sustainably produce cranberries, and they are also providing critical habitat for many wildlife species. This includes rare and sensitive species unique to the NJ Pinelands region. Adjacent to Pine Island Cranberry Company, and the NJ Audubon led Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative, the Lee Brothers farm has also joined the cause to help Bobwhite recover in the pinelands. The Lee’s have implemented a delayed mowing schedule during the bird breeding season and have planted many native pinelands plants such as partridge pea, that act as both forage and cover for Northern Bobwhite. These same native plants are also beneficial for native pollinators, species essential for cranberry and blueberry production.

NJ Audubon extends sincere thanks to the Lee Brothers, Ocean Spray and the event organizers of the Garden State Farm to Fork Fondo for having us as a part of the event and helping to educate people about the critical relationship between agriculture and habitat conservation!