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Cranberry growers squeezed by developers, environmentalists

Cranberries are a big business in the Northeast  

This article is part of a companion series to "Sprawl America," a look at suburban growth airing nightly this week on CNN at 8 p.m. EST.

(CNN) -- The crimson harvest of the cranberry has marked the New England landscape for generations.

In recent years, the berries have come a long way, from a holiday side dish to a year-round big business. Ocean Spray, the most well-known cranberry marketer, is a Fortune 500 company.

But as the popularity of cranberries has expanded, so have cities and suburbs, leaving many Northeastern cranberry growers feeling hemmed in.

In heavily populated southeastern Massachusetts, where cranberry growers are by necessity large landowners, the bogs where the crops are cultivated are being surrounded by development.

"We're looking at some tremendous amounts of growth coming to this region," said Jeff Lefleur of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association. "In fact, four of the five top cranberry producing towns are going to experience growth in excess of 25 percent."

Wetlands are at the heart of the debate  

Environmental debate

Growers say that pollution from the runoff of lawns and streets can hurt cranberry cultivation.

Cranberry critics, however, contend that agriculture contaminates the water.

"Any industry that's going to be working in wetlands and, by definition, needing from time to time to apply pesticides and insecticides and so forth, is a concern," said Bill Neil of the New Jersey Audubon Society.

The Environmental Protection Agency is putting a hold on New Jersey's plan to let cranberry growers expand into 400 acres, including sensitive wetlands.

The growers, for their part, say that cultivation keeps land from being paved.

"For every one acre of cranberry bog, we preserve an additional four acres of wetlands, which are needed to cultivate that bog," Lefleur said.

Cranberries have become a complicated issue -- something to ponder as you savor the tart red sauce this holiday season.

Correspondent Natalie Pawelski contributed to this report.
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