WARRENS, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – First News at Nine is proud to bring to you our newest franchise, Harvesting Heroes. During the upcoming harvest season, we will be airing a series of features on local farmers throughout our viewing area, all building towards a half-hour harvest special on FOX2548 called Hometown Harvest.
We will air that special in November. Harvesting Heroes will give you an in-depth look at the places and faces behind the produce in your home. A fixture of the Wisconsin economy, farming faces new challenges and enjoys new innovations every year. Here’s Denton Postlewait with our first Harvesting Hero.
For Wetherby Cranberry Company owner, Nodji Van Wychen, cranberries are not just another fruit. They are her life.
“I have a real passion for cranberries, and I try to work very hard at doing what I do. It’s my life, what I love to do, and it’s a reason why I’m here,” said Wychen.
Since taking over her parent’s marsh in 1973, Van Wychen has helped turn the tiny village of Warrens into the cranberry mecha. However, she said that almost didn’t happen.
Wychen said, “The marsh was started in 1903. We first started packing fresh fruit on this marsh in 1905. My father decided that he needed to semi-retire, and said “well it looks like I am going to have to sell the marsh” and I said, “oh no you’re not selling the marsh,”.
Nearly five decades later, she has grown the farm from just 35 acres of cranberry beds into more than 200.
“We have worked hard over the years to get where we are today and fortunately, we are very proud that we have something to pass on to our next generation,” said Wychen.
With only 250 cranberry growers in the badger state, they all combine to produce 60 percent of the world’s supplies of cranberries.
“I am the third-generation on this marsh, our son is fourth, and we have one grandson for sure that is going to continue in the cranberry industry, which was grandmother’s dream to have that fifth-generation working on the marsh,” said Wychen.
Although the marsh is doing well now, Van Wychen says a cranberry scare in 1956 almost ruined the industry.
“Our entire crop had to be dumped that year. We had to dig pits, put them in the pits, and pour fuel oil over them so no one could rescue them and eat them. We got zero dollars for our whole crop that year. If that is your only income, that’s tough to take,” said Wychen.
While others in the industry turned to juice and other products as a way to get back on their feet, Wetherby stayed true to their course, fresh cranberries.
Wychen said, “There are only two independent fresh fruit packers in the state, and we are one of the two.”
On a long resume filled with awards and honors, Van Wychen says the achievement she is most proud of is the Warrens Cranberry Festival. Which draws thousands to the village of Warrens each year.
Wychen said, “Back in 1973, I was one of the founders of the Warrens Cranberry Festival. The first festival we had 75 booths and 3,500 people in two days. That provided a huge economic boost for not just Warrens but the entire area around. In 2019 we had 160,000 guests in a village of 360 people in three days.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the festival, now in its 48th year.
Wychen said, “it has a huge huge impact. Warrens is known as the Cranberry Capital of Wisconsin. We are really hoping that after this year of absence, it’ll become humongous in 2021.”
Although she still owns the farm, Van Wychen says she can see the day when her rein as cranberry queen may come to an end. But one thing is for certain, Nodji Van Wychen helped turned Warrens Wisconsin into the Cranberry Capital of the World.
“My family wants to continue in this tradition that we have started. I mean we work hard, but that is what you are working for,” said Wychen.
In Warrens, Denton Postlewait, First News at Nine.