In 1918 Russell Rezin began a cranberry marsh in Warrens.
Ninety-nine years and five generations later, the marsh is still going strong in the hands of his descendants.
The Russell Rezin and Son Cranberry Marsh is now run by his daughter-in-law, Judy Rezin; his granddaughters Shelly Schultz and Lisa Hart and their husbands Scott Schultz and Bruce Hart; and his great-grandson Cory Hart and his wife Lisa.
“It’s a family affair,” Shelly Schultz said.
There’s something about the life that pulls you in, Shelly Schultz said.
“It’s all I’ve ever known, and my dad always told the story that he’d take a job farther away, but he has always come back,” she said. “There’s a draw here. It gets in your blood, and it’s hard to do anything else or go anywhere else. You’re kind of spoiled here.”
Shelly Schultz said her and husband Scott’s two children, Rusty and Amber, are not involved with the marsh but have expressed interest in coming back in the future.
“Our kids are off doing other things, but they talk about coming back,” she said. “That’s their plan; they’ll end up here, too. Whether that pans out or not, I don’t know.”
Scott Schultz said he and his wife did something similar.
“We were both off the farm for (awhile),” he said. “We didn’t come here until our mid 20s or later 20s. We worked other places ... we lived away from home for a while, saw what the real world was like.”
The Schultz’s have been involved on the 230-acre marsh for 31 years. It’s a way of life, Scott Schultz said, not just a job.
“You live it,” he said. “When we walk, we walk out on the marsh, and you look at things and you see how things are progressing or you see things you can do to make things better. We spend a lot of time here, but it’s a good life.”
Shelly Schultz agrees.
“We enjoy being here,” she said.
There are struggles, Scott Schultz said, but it’s worth it.
One of the struggles of owning a cranberry marsh is the weather, Shelly Schultz said.
“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature every year,” she said. “Every time it clouds up you think, ‘Is this the one that could wipe us out?’ So it’s not easy.”
No years are the same, Scott Schultz said. Each stage of cranberry development depends on the weather, especially during the bloom stage in spring.
“When the spring comes, the earlier the spring the earlier our crops will start to grow and the earlier they grow, the earlier you have to start watching them,” he said. “They’re really tender in the springtime, so we’ve got to make sure we don’t freeze them. We don’t want the wind to burn them.”
There are many variables, and the weather can make or break a crop, Shelly Schultz said.
“To get everything to hit perfect, you might as well go to Vegas,” she said.
Scott Schultz agrees.
“Typically it would be nice if all the ice would all leave our ponds the middle of April and things will start growing the first week in May, get our bees in the first week in June and ship the bees out right after the Fourth of July,” he said. “But in the realm of things, that’s when it should all happen and very seldom does it ever.”
Another struggle of running a marsh is the market, Scott Schultz said.
“It’s growing, but it’s shrinking,” he said. “People don’t drink juice like they used to. Now it’s the big sugar kick. The juice market is declining, but the sweetened dried cranberries, that is really jumping, so they’re really selling more and more of those. So the thing now is they want cranberries that make better sweetened-dried cranberries.”
The market is expanding, Scott Schultz said.
“They’re selling more cranberries now than they ever have, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “Domestically, then overseas, they’re selling a lot of them. They’re getting people across the ocean to like cranberries.”
Exports to China, India and Mexico are a big push now for the cranberry market, Shelly Schultz said.
Education is key to expansion overseas, she said.
“In China, they told us they didn’t even have a word for cranberry,” she said. “So to try to introduce that and educate people about something they don’t even have a word for is something unique. That’s kind of where we are as we’re trying to introduce the cranberry to China, to India, where cranberries are so beneficial for urinary tract infections and gut problems ... It’s just educating people on it and getting them to try it. Baby steps.”
Cranberries are also selling well in Central Europe, Great Britain, Australia, Japan and Korea. More cranberries are being sold, but the acreage growing isn’t increasing, Scott Schultz said. Growers are just learning how to grow them a little better and are planting better varieties.
“Wisconsin grows over 61 percent of all cranberries grown in the United States ... and that’s only on 21,000 acres,” he said.
Growing conditions have been perfect for Wisconsin in the last few years, Shelly Schultz said. Last year Wisconsin growers produced six million barrels, and this year’s crop is expected to be slightly below that.
Scott Schultz believes the marsh can keep up with the market and keep the legacy going.
“I hope it’s here for another 100 years, but you never know,” he said. “Hopefully the family will carry it on ... I think they will one way, shape or form.”
Shelly Schultz agrees.
“As long as we’re around, it will stay in the family, but the industry, that’s anybody’s guess,” she said. “There’s been ebbs and flows for years; it’s like any other agricultural business. I think we’ll ride this out, and we’ll get through it. I think we’re here to stay.”