Happiness in a Cranberry Bog
Stepping into a dry, crunchy cranberry bog in July, Malcolm McPhail inspects his crop every day to make sure the marble-sized, nutrient-packed berries are growing as they should.
The best qualities of a passionate spokesperson and experienced farmer manifest in Malcolm. He and his wife Ardell offer guests a glass of cranberry juice like other hosts offer tea or coffee.
“Cranberries are so good for you,” said Malcolm, who proudly wears cranberry-covered shirts regularly. “I have several glasses of cranberry juice every single day. And I’m still farming at 82.”
The McPhails own around 100 acres of cranberry bogs near Long Beach on Washington’s west coast.
Before the bogs are flooded for harvest, cranberries are low to the ground and can be hard to pick. And while they know the ins and outs of a cranberry bog like few others, the McPhails are steeped in general agriculture knowledge as well.
Malcolm started his career as a WSU Extension agent, working 15 years in four counties around Washington. All the while, he kept a sign posted in his office that said “I’d rather be farming.”
Taking a chance
In 1981, he and Ardell decided to take the plunge and go out on their own. They became farmers.
“A big part of it was putting my money where my mouth was,” Malcolm said. “I wanted to prove that I could do what I was telling others they should do.”
A fellow Extension agent encouraged Malcolm to go into cranberries, and he’s been farming in bogs ever since.
“He considered buying a dairy farm, but I had no interest in that,” Ardell said. “We bought our cranberry farm and have been thrilled with it.”
The couple works their farm together, with Ardell spending time every year riding a ‘beater,’ the equipment driven through the flooded bogs that knocks the cranberries off their stems so they float to the top.
“I enjoy getting out into the bogs and helping bring in the crop,” she said.
Dedication to Extension
Ardell, who earned a master’s degree in adult and continuing education from WSU, also served as an Extension agent before they bought their farm.
“We loved working for Extension and helping so many people every day,” Ardell said.
As they left Extension to start their own farm, they took knowledge-sharing skills and experiences with them. They got together with other local growers. They organized and hosted bog tours several times each year, allowing growers to share ideas and experiences.
“Part of Extension is getting people together, and we knew how valuable that is,” Malcolm said. “We still meet once a month, and we meet with our local Extension expert as much as possible.”
The McPhails have no interest in retiring. Working in the field is their passion, but now they’ve got help so they can travel to see family or visit friends. Two of their three sons are involved in the family business nearby.
Ardell also stays connected with her WSU Extension background by writing a newsletter for Extension retirees.
“Even though we didn’t technically retire in Extension, it was and still is a huge part of our lives,” Ardell said. “It’s led us to where we are, and we couldn’t be happier.”