John Decas gets a familiar itch at cranberry harvest time, the tiny fruit being the state’s top agricultural commodity crop and what made Carver-based Decas Cranberry Products a giant in the business.
“When I was young, the three brothers took their families to the bogs around harvest time,” said Decas, 82, about Nicholas, Charles, and William Decas, who founded the company in 1934. “As a youngster to see that harvest, it really aroused my curiosity. I thought if there was anything I was going to do with my life, this was it.”
It was. Decas, a Wareham resident and owner of the company, worked full time at the family business when he got out of the Army in 1959. He’d studied agriculture at the University of Massachusetts and worked for a season at the Cranberry Experiment Station, where he said “I met scientists and growers, and that made me want to succeed in cranberries more than ever.”
He saw many changes in the industry over the years, most notably how berries are harvested.
“When I first saw it as a kid, there were guys on their knees with scoops,” he said. “They graduated to mechanical dry harvesting in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and by the mid-’70s, it was water harvesting, the most efficient way and the way it always will be. And it attracts a lot of tourists -- it’s pretty photogenic.”
One top attraction is the Cranberry Harvest Celebration, held at A.D. Makepeace Co. on Tihonet Road in Wareham, running this year -- the 200th anniversary of cranberry growing in the state -- on Oct. 8 and 9.
Decas, who stepped down as chief executive of his company in 2004 but served as chief operating officer until 2014, said weather is a big farming challenge, but with cranberries so is having too much product on hand. Years ago, he led the charge to use surplus to make dried sweetened cranberries, which is now a large part of the business through its Paradise Meadow brand.
But this time of year, there’s nothing like a ripe cranberry, Decas said. He takes his raw.
“It’s an acquired taste,” he laughed about the bitter berry. “I claim to have eaten more raw cranberries than any human. Maybe that’s why I’m hanging in there so well.”
Paul E. Kandarian