our history

four generations of growing cranberries

four generations of growing cranberries

In 1945, Delbert and Myrtle Bartling were living in Necedah, Wisconsin, operating a creamery and teaching high school math and science. With high hopes of success and prosperity from the high demand of cranberries after World War II, they took a leap of faith, sold the creamery, and purchased undeveloped land in Manitowish Waters. 

From 1946 to 1953, the Bartlings spent their summers overseeing the construction of the cranberry farm while living in a small shack nearby. They constructed most of the farm by hand until machinery could be afforded. Harvesting the first few crops was done with hand-rakes and sold regionally as fresh fruit. The Bartlings initially used very primitive growing techniques, such as leveling beds with logs pulled by horses, hand fertilizing, and digging ditches with shovels. Following Debert’s early death in 1953, Myrtle sold her Necedah home and moved to the farm full time until she died in 2002 at nearly 100 years old. 

 1945 to 1953 

first generation

  • In the 1950s, Manitowish Cranberry Co joined Ocean Spray Cranberries, a grower-owned marketing cooperative.  
  • In 1966, Manitowish Cranberry Co purchased the adjacent farm, Cardinal Cranberry Company, owned by Harold Gross, to bring their farm size to 100 acres. 
  • Fred Bartling served on the Ocean Spray Board of Directors from 1981-1998.  

second generation

1953 to 1980

Highlights of the second generation: 

After Delbert’s death in 1953, their son Frederic was released from the Navy and returned home, with his wife Lenore, to take over the family farm. Fred and his mother Myrtle managed their 30 acres of constructed cranberries and continued to grow with the help of mechanized construction and planting methods until they reached 60 acres in size. 

Starting in the 1950s, specialized raking machines were first used to harvest the crop, greatly reducing the manual labor needed, although it was all still sold as fresh fruit. Fertilizers and pesticides were applied with an airplane or helicopter, which added to increased yields. 

Around 1980, Fred’s two sons Peter and Michael joined the family business. With foresight and knowledge, Peter and Michael grew Manitowish Cranberry Co from a small family farm to a big business. In 1988, Peter and Michael purchased land to build an additional 45 acres off-site from the main farm property. Included on their new parcel was a lakefront seasonal resort, Alderwood Resort, which they began to operate. This expansion of an otherwise traditional cranberry farm was the beginning of an interest in local real estate investments.  

With the invention of cranberry juice cocktail and Craisins® during this time, the cranberry industry transformed from a solely fresh fruit business to predominantly processed fruit. Peter and Michael added mechanized harvesting and fruit cleaning equipment to meet the changing needs, which were some of the first in the industry, and they no longer sold fresh fruit. 

Barbara, Michael’s wife, joined the company to organize the financials and modernize their accounting. Peter retired from the business in 2009, which was perfect timing for Michael’s two sons to move into the business. Michael later retired in 2017. 

1980 to 2010

Third generation

  • Over the span of 30 years, the farm expanded to 180 acres, which was quite large as the average cranberry farm size at the time was under 75 acres.
  • For the first time the farm saw harvest yields over 4 million pounds due to their increase in acreage and improvement in growing practices.
  • Following in his father’s footsteps, Michael Bartling served on the Ocean Spray Board of Directors from 2004 to 2018.

Highlights of the third generation: 

  • The farm has now surpassed harvest yields of over 7 million pounds due to bed renovation and improved growing practices.
  • Manitowish Cranberry Co continues to invest in local real estate opportunities diversifying their business.
  • Improved the population of native pollinators by planting acres of pollinator gardens.
  • Following in their dad and grandfather’s footsteps, both brothers are active in the cranberry industry. Steven Bartling served on the Wisconsin State Cranberry Grower’s Association Board and David Bartling served on the Cranberry Marketing Committee. 

Fourth Generation

2007 to Today 

Highlights of the fourth generation: 

Michael’s two sons, Steven and David, began working on the farm in 2007 and 2013, respectively, which began the transition to the fourth generation. Steven and David have taken an aggressive approach to increasing yields from the existing acreage by replacing poor yielding vines with new, high-yielding varieties. 

The brothers have embraced technology, science-based growing practices, and infrastructure investments to keep Manitowish Cranberry Co a leader in the industry. They help facilitate cranberry research projects with University of Wisconsin-Madison and continue to follow best management practices to conserve water and energy. They have further advanced their harvesting process by adding a processing facility to clean, size, grade, and bin fruit before it’s sent to a freezer.