Supporting Sustainable Land Use Decisions in the Massachusetts Cranberry Industry

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Cranberry farming is economically, culturally, and historically important in Southeastern Massachusetts, but today faces compounding challenges that make it increasingly difficult for farms to stay profitable: heightened competition from Midwestern farms using modern farming techniques and hybrid cranberry cultivars, fluctuating cranberry prices, an aging farmer population, and uncertain growing conditions due to a changing climate.

These factors have led many farmers to consider new options for their farmland including undergoing farm renovations to improve efficiency, planting newer and more robust cranberry varietals, or diversifying their income streams with solar panel installation or alternative crops. Other farmers, looking to exit the farming industry entirely, have several options: selling their land to developers, or partnering with local municipalities and conservation organizations to restore their farmland to its native wetland state. All these options present social, economic, and environmental trade-offs. Fundamentally, however, growers need to make a sustainable living, provide for their families, and recoup their investment in land.

Many cranberry farms in Massachusetts were built on top of wetlands over a century ago. This ecological history is of particular interest due to the ecosystem services that functioning wetland ecosystems can provide to humans: among others, water purification, biodiversity support, and carbon sequestration. Building upon ongoing research on the science of cranberry bog restoration, this work integrates diverse forms of satellite, sensor, and scientific data to quantify the benefits of wetland restoration across the region and contextualize these benefits through economic comparisons. The goal of this work is to identify synergies between environmentally and economically advantageous uses of land, provide information and analysis to support sustainable land use outcomes, and motivate climate-friendly decision-making.

Explore the data to see how wetland restoration could bring value to towns and farmers across Southeastern Massachusetts.

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About this Project

Thank you for being here. This website was developed as part of Caroline Jaffe's Ph.D. dissertation research at the MIT Media Lab, with significant contributions from Maria Alder, Julian Manyika, Erika Pilpre, and Jamie Geng. This research involves exploring and quantifying the environmental and economic outcomes of freshwater wetland restoration in the context of the Massachusetts cranberry industry. This work builds on research on the science of cranberry bog restoration conducted by Living Observatory, as well as two ongoing projects at the MIT Media Lab: the Tidmarsh sensor network installation from the Responsive Environments group, and the EVDT integrated modeling framework from the Space Enabled Group.