Meet the Haines
The Cranberry Forest
With a 130-year-old cranberry farm nestled amid 11,000 wood acres that include rare Atlantic white cedar, Bill and Nadine Haines have an unusual and breathtaking operation in southern New Jersey.
This article originally appeared in the 2022 Jan/Feb issue of Forest Landowner Magazine and was written by Pete Williams, the editor.
Bill Haines grabs a cranberry off a conveyor belt, takes a bite, and smiles. We’re standing, along with his wife Nadine,
on a platform twelve feet above a flooded cranberry bog. Below us, three employees of their Pine Island Cranberry
Company, clad in hip waders and standing waist-deep in water, funnel berries into this two-story harvesting machine that sorts
the bright-red fruit and deposits it into a truck that will transport 40,000 pounds of berries to a nearby Ocean Spray receiving
It’s one of several trucks that the crew, one of three, will fill on this unseasonably warm mid-October day, the peak of the
cranberry harvesting season. By Halloween, the crews will have harvested 1,350 acres and a company-record 34 million pounds
of cranberries, making Pine Island the largest New Jersey supplier to Ocean Spray and third-biggest overall.
Because the fruit is harvested in water, it’s immediately frozen and ultimately will be made into various cranberry
products, but especially craisins because New Jersey grows the largest version of the tart fruit.
The Pine Island cranberry operation, which Haines’s great-grandfather Martin Haines started in 1890, might be
only the second most unusual thing about the Haineses when it comes to their membership in the Forest Landowners Association.
Their 1,500 acres of cranberry bogs and 1,500 acres of reservoirs are surrounded by 11,000 acres of forestland here
amid the Pine Barrens, just 45 miles east of Philadelphia International Airport but a world away from the densely-populated
urban centers of Philly and northern New Jersey.
Bob Williams, the forester for the Haines property, says it’s the largest privately-managed forest in New Jersey. It’s also
home to a large-scale restoration project of Atlantic white cedar, which makes up about 1,000 acres of the Haines forestland. For
more than 90 years until 2009, the land also included a blueberry operation, and Haines’s late father, Bill Haines, Sr., even
dabbled in strawberries and Christmas tree sales as a way to ensure the land produced year-round income.
But until 2005, the forests were largely unmanaged other than some occasional prescribed burning. Part of that was
because of New Jersey’s regulations and bureaucracy, especially in the Pine Barrens, but part of it was the family’s focus
on cranberries. From the time Martin Haines, a Union Army captain during the Civil War, began assembling forested land
in 1890, the primary goal was to have a large source of clean water for the fruit.
“We like to finish in the black no matter what we’re doing and it didn’t seem it was worth the effort and the challenges
we’d have to overcome,” said Haines, 68. “But I kept thinking that there was something there and that’s proven to be the case.
But I’ve found forest management is much different than the cranberry business.”
Williams, the forester, has spent the bulk of his career working amid the Pine Barrens where he was born and
raised. A prolific writer, including contributing regularly to this magazine, he writes frequently about the challenges of
forest management in heavily regulated, heavily taxed New Jersey and his concern that as people move south, those big-government
bureaucracies could gain a foothold in the Southeast, impacting the rights of private forest landowners there.
Williams also must remind people that the Garden State is heavily forested and not just turnpike stops, oil refineries, casinos,
and the suburbs of New York and Philadelphia.
When Haines approached him about creating a forest management plan, Williams knew they would face obstacles
unlike landowners in much of the country. The Haines cranberry farm in the town of Chatsworth in an area known as Hog
Wallow, where Bill and his three sisters were raised, sits within the boundaries of the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve,
which includes 1.1 million acres and occupies 22 percent of New Jersey’s land area. Like most public lands, there’s little
forest management involved.
When Williams filed a forest management plan with the Pinelands Reserve Commission in 2001, it was the largest ever
received and took years of legal fees and permitting negotiations before it was approved in 2005. There were many rules
about what could and could not be planted. Loblolly, even though it’s found in southern New Jersey, was not considered a
native species and thus could not be planted.
The politically-connected Haines was up for the challenge. He has served as mayor of Washington Township, which is the
largest of New Jersey’s municipalities by land area, but among the smallest with only about 700 people residing across 110
square miles, a population density less than that of Iowa. He also served as a Burlington County freeholder (since renamed
Then there’s the issue of markets. South Jersey once had two pulp mills but they’re long gone. Williams sold softwood to
a Pennsylvania pulp mill but that, too, went away. “We’re in a difficult situation where we can’t take care of the forest because
there’s no market,” he said. “So, we use a lot of prescribed fire. The Haines property includes cranberry bogs, like this one in the
process of being harvested, surrounded by 11,000 acres of forestland. American white cedar, like this harvested from the
Haines property in October, is a long-lasting, rot-resistant wood used for roof shingles and boat construction since
colonial times. New Jersey produces some of the largest cranberries, ideal for producing
craisins. We do what we can.”
To cut pulpwood, Williams barters the wood in exchange for seedlings and re-planting. The upside to the Haines property,
from both an economic and ecological standpoint, is the Atlantic white cedar, a wetland species that once covered more than
500,000 acres along a narrow swath from the coast of Maine to Georgia and from the Gulf Coast states of Florida to Mississippi.
Less than 10 percent of that ecosystem remains.
Atlantic white cedar is a long-lasting, rot-resistant wood used for roof shingles and boat construction since colonial
times. So treasured is the cedar for building and creating products such as duck decoys that timber cut from the Haines
property is hauled to North Carolina. Some of their cedar helped restore a 17th-century building in Colonial Williamsburg
that Bill and Nadine visited while attending the FLA national conference there in June. Says Williams, “If it’s worth shipping
cedar to North Carolina, imagine what it would be worth if we could process it in New Jersey?”
Cedar does not grow as fast as pine and presents unusual forest management challenges. Though it regenerates on its
own with a staggering 5,000 to 10,000 trees per acre, coming in like grass, it must be clear-cut since it requires full sunlight
to regrow. It also does poorly when competing against other species, which makes herbicide treatment a must. Without forest
management, the cedar species is doomed.
Williams cites the Haines property often in his writing and when speaking at conferences as an example of the importance
of forest management in New Jersey and not just restoring Atlantic white cedar. He says there’s more silviculture performed there than anywhere else in the Pinelands. He’s even brought college classes out to the property. “I obviously get paid as the forester of the property,” he
says. “But I’ve been motivated more by the tremendous professional opportunity to take a piece of property and show everyone
what we could be doing with similar lands.”
Managing forests in New Jersey is an ongoing struggle, Williams says. But there are signs of progress. Ten years after
the approval of the first management plan for the Haines property, Williams had to submit a new one to the Pinelands Reserve
Commission. This time it sailed through smoothly.
Like many forest landowners, Bill Haines drives a Ford F-150. That might be where the similarities end when it
comes to his tour of private forestland.
The Haines trip starts with a drive across dams that divide more than 350 cranberry bogs. There’s an elaborate pump system that moves water by gravity from bog to bog for harvesting, and dozens of small, cranberry-colored pump houses. During peak harvest season, three crews combine to harvest 40 acres of cranberries a day. Two of the Haineses six children, daughter Stefanie and son Michael, along with a son-in-law Jeremy, are
involved in the cranberry operation, making it a fifth-generation business.
Bill and Nadine have five grandchildren, none old enough to get involved, at least by today’s standards. Bill Haines was 10 years old when he began helping with the blueberry harvest, nailing on the final slat of crates after they were filled with fruit. (He was in school during the cran –
berry harvesting months). In high school, his father tasked him with managing a swampy island of pine trees surrounded by cedar.
Bill Jr. decided if he ever had his own company, he’d name it Pine Island. He graduated from Rutgers and returned to the
family business. After Bill Sr. passed in 2007, Bill Jr. merged a Pine Island company he founded to manage the farm with the
existing Haines & Haines to create the Pine Island Cranberry Co.
The Pine Island operation, like the rest of the New Jersey Pinelands, has coarse, sandy soils with high iron content and
low pH – ideal for the cranberries that grow there. But it’s the water that makes the difference.
Clean water is a primary benefit of forestlands, one cited often by FLA, but never is that more apparent than driving
through a cranberry operation. There are no natural lakes in the Pinelands, so Martin Haines built reservoirs by damming off
tributaries to the Wading and Oswego rivers. The wet harvesting process uses reservoirs and a system of wells, pumps, and gates
to flood the sandy bogs, which is why the 1 1,000 forested acres are crucial to the operation.
“The key to all cranberry operations is water,” Haines says, nodding as we pass a reservoir. “People say real estate is about
location, location, location. With cranberries, it’s water, water, water.”
Martin Haines purchased land whenever it became available upstream, mostly during tax sales and with little competition
since nobody else wanted it. So treasured was the Pine Barrens water that Joseph Wharton, an entrepreneur and
cranberry farmer, accumulated more than 100,000 acres and hoped to provide a source of clean water for Philadelphia. Instead,
New Jersey’s legislature passed a law banning the export of water from the state, which bought the tract from Wharton’s
heirs in the 1950s. (Wharton, who died in 1909, is the namesake of the nearby Wharton State Forest as well as the University of
Pennsylvania business school he founded.)
In Martin Haines’s time, dams were built by hand or with horses and equipment. Harvesting was grueling work done by
hand using wooden scoop baskets with comblike teeth that pulled the berries off the vines. When Bill Haines Sr. began wet
harvesting in the 1960s, he created more dams and converted larger bogs into smaller ones. Water also is important for irrigation
and to protect against frost.
“This is the about the best place in New Jersey to farm for several reasons, including because our neighbors are either
other farmers or state forests,” Haines says. “We can start our pumps in the middle of the night and nobody complains.”
Haines turns the F-150 into the woods. We pass some of the plantings from the last decade, all shortleaf or pitch pine since
loblolly is not permitted. We pass a logging operation with a load of cedar ready for transport. Bill parks the truck and soon
we’re hiking through young cedar Haines moves quickly through the forest. A tall, fit, avid cyclist, he and Nadine have taken cycling tours through Europe and the Southeast. Walking through their cedar forestland seems like an outdoorsy, eco-tourist experience itself. Says Williams,
who has spent a career working in New Jersey forests, “You feel more like you’re in the Pacific Northwest or Canada when
you’re in their forestland. It’s breathtaking.”
Haines pauses. He’s more than a decade into forest management but it still seems like he’s just getting started. “There’s
an opportunity to do more,” he says. “It’s been fun and interesting and it more than pays for itself. We thought there would
be an economic and ecological benefit and that’s been proven to be the case. But the big thing is that we’ve been tied to this
land for four generations and all of us have been raised that we were supposed to take care of it. If this can serve as an example
for what can happen elsewhere in New Jersey, both in terms of the cedar and overall forest management, then it’s really been