Sharon Huggett and her husband, Wally, have been growing cranberries in Cheboygan for more than 20 years. The couple formed Michigan Cranberry Company in 1991 and planted the first beds in 1993, with a respectable harvest in 1998. Currently, they have about 220 acres of cranberries on a total of 800 acres. “My husband’s family has been in agriculture for over 100 years,” Sharon Huggett says. “His father and grandfather started in dairy, then began growing peppermint and spearmint. There was a problem with the mint in the mid- 1950s, so my father-in-law started looking at other crops and began growing sod in 1958.” Huggett says they bought the farm from Wally’s father in 1963 and took over growing sod and mint, but in 1985, Wally began investigating cranberries after his interest was peaked by a friend.
Along with cranberries, other important specialty crops for Michigan include members of the cucurbit family, such as cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. To protect these crops, Michigan State University is leading a $6.5 million research effort to develop genetic tools to help breed disease-resistant crops, thanks to a grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative.