By Douglas Karlson
About 15 years ago, the management of A.D. Makepeace Company, together with the board of directors, put their heads together to come up with a tagline for the company.
It was no easy task, recalls Linda Burke, Vice President of Marketing and Communication. The company has diverse business lines, each with different objectives. There is, of course, its traditional cranberry growing operation (A.D. Makepeace Company is the largest grower of cranberries in the world), but there are also two other major businesses: real estate development and specialty custom soils.
How to tie it all together? Michael Hogan, the then newly hired President and CEO, came up with the answer: “Inspired by Nature.”
“That’s the thing that ties us all together,” says Burke.
As cranberry growers, A.D. Makepeace Company is dependent on the environment, and must therefore be respectful of it. That respect for the environment is something that also guides the company’s real estate development, both residential and commercial, on long-held company land that adjoins the bogs.
“An ample supply of fresh water is critical to the well-being of our cranberry crop,” explains Hogan. That means the company’s commercial and residential development must be properly balanced with the company’s agricultural activities.
According to Hogan, responsible stewardship of the environmental is a concept that applies to everything they do. It’s not just a hollow tagline.
“Our custom soils business is built on environmental stewardship: our customers are committed to the benefits of green roofs, healthy urban landscapes, and plantings that thrive with minimal irrigation. And of course the impetus for our solar facilities is the growing recognition that renewable energy is the best chance we have for reducing our impact on the climate,” he explains.
For the company’s real estate business, the iconic bogs and the protected open space that surround them form a special sense of place that creates a unique setting for both homeowners and businesses.
For example, Rosebrook Place, a business park home to the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, Southcoast Health, a Marriott hotel, and other offices and retail spaces, is located right next to a well-maintained working cranberry bog.
“If you’re at a function at the Marriott or at a meeting at the Cape Cod Five conference room, or going to see your doctor, you’ve got a beautiful view of a cranberry bog, and that’s fairly unusual,” says Burke.
“We know there has to be a relationship between us and our tenants and the cranberry growing function, so we’ve made it so the cranberry growing is an amenity for the rest of it,” she explains.
To further emphasize the value of its agricultural activities, and promote appreciation for the environment, the company has made a concerted effort to involve and educate the public in its cranberry growing operations, and to celebrate the harvest. It does this through tours of the picturesque bogs, and the annual Cranberry Harvest Celebration that it hosts every year in October.
“Every person we provide some education to is an advocate for what we’re doing,” explains Burke, who notes that many people who move to the region are unfamiliar with the importance and history of cranberry growing.
That history goes back more than 160 years, and so is ingrained in the organization’s values and business philosophy.
The company was founded 1854 by Abel D. Makepeace in Barnstable and shifted to Wareham in early 1900s. There was no need to cross the bridge, as the canal did not exist in those days.
The company prospered with the vibrant cranberry industry. Over the years, it acquired more than 2,000 acres of cranberry bog, making it one of the largest landowners in Eastern Massachusetts. The company is an original founder and member of the Ocean Spray cooperative.
A.D. Makepeace Company has preserved its history while at the same time adapting to the modern market. Many buildings on the corporate campus were originally used to service the cranberry growing operation. A box mill, once used to make the wooden boxes in which cranberries were packed, now serves as a hall for weddings and other functions.
Other historic buildings, however, continue to service the cranberry industry. A machine shop still manufactures the specialized equipment used for picking cranberries.
As part of the accumulation of its property, the company ended up owning some land that wasn’t needed for cranberry growing.
According to Burke, about 15 to 20 years ago it started looking for other uses of that property.
Real Estate Development
Working with like-minded companies, whom A. D. Makepeace refers to as “builder-partners,” the company has since built a number of developments. Residential developments include Kingsbury Hollow and Whistleberry Glen in Carver, and Crane Landing and the Residences on Tihonet Pond in Wareham.
Commercial developments include Rosebrook Place, Rosebrook Business Park, and Tihonet Technology Park in Wareham.
The newest residential community is Redbrook in South Plymouth. It’s an award-winning mixed-use village with small lots and a walkable community setting that consists of 1,100 units of housing, as well as a YMCA and restaurants. The land was purchased by A.D. Makepeace Company back in the 1950s.
“We partner with many other businesses, from landscapers to homebuilders to the commercial tenants, in the buildings we build, and we always have an opportunity to evaluate whether those partners are compatible with our philosophy,” explains Hogan.
“Redbrook is a great example of this – we could have engaged a national production builder and accelerated the project, but instead we are working with three smaller companies who are from our region and share our vision. You would be surprised at how often we have conversations internally about compatibility.”
“Redbrook will produce no net increase in nitrogen,” adds Hogan. “We can do this because we have a private wastewater treatment plant which reduces nitrogen effluent to its lowest possible level, and combined with landscaping techniques and changes in agricultural practices brings the net increase to zero. Also, that plant, along with buildings at Rosebrook, run on solar power from our nearby solar farms.”
That compatibility applies to commercial tenants as well. “It’s not an accident that the tenants at Rosebrook are businesses like Cape Cod Five, Southcoast Health, and Lafrance Hospitality that have a real understanding of our region and so they care for it,” says Burke.
“Businesses have come to understand that you have to be connected,” she adds.
Because A.D. Makepeace Company is often developing land it has owned for a hundred years or more, and will continue to farm near that land, it takes a special interest in the quality of the development.
“When we develop something, we stay there. We’re not moving away from it,” explains Burke.
“The whole development there is designed to appeal to people who value the natural surroundings,” explains Burke of Redbrook. The typical resident is someone who owns a kayak or mountain bike, who cares about nature, but doesn’t necessarily want to do a lot of maintenance. They can access 1,400 acres of permanently protected open space surrounding them.
The company says that synergy is designed is to “optimize the long-term value of our landholdings and agricultural operations by integrating cranberry farming and community development, thereby creating unique and distinctive real estate destinations.”
The company has also been retracting its footprint, and doing bog construction and restoration closer to the Wareham headquarters, and has sold bogs in more distant locations like Norton and Easton.
In addition to cranberries and real estate development, several years ago A.D. Makepeace Company realized they had synergy with a company in the growing custom soils industry, to whom they provided sand.
They acquired the company, Read Custom Soils, in 2011.
“There was a lot of synergy. It worked out well for us,” says Burke.
Read Custom Soils produces custom-engineered soils for baseball and football fields, green roofs, equestrian footing, and unpaved walking paths. Under this unifying philosophy, each business unit supports the others, both financially and culturally.
“We kind of think of it as a three-legged stool,” says Burke. If the cranberry industry has a bad year, the other business lines can make up for it.
In addition to the major business units described above, and to place emphasis on its agricultural roots and values, A.D. Makepeace Company emphasizes community involvement with the cranberry harvest. It offers tours of the bogs, and hosts annual harvest celebrations.
“The initial impetus for opening our doors and offering tours was so people would have a better understanding of the cranberry industry,” explains Burke. Almost all of their harvest is wet harvest, a visual spectacle, and the harvest is trucked to a nearby Ocean Spray processing plant.
Efforts to involve the public into the company’s traditional cranberry operations were initiated by Hogan. Previously, he had been President of Mass Development, and Mayor of the City of Marlborough.
“He had an innate understanding of how events like that could develop a sense of community, and thought that it was important that we contribute to our community in that way,” says Burke.
The first thing the company did to open up to the public in 2004 was to revive the Cranberry Harvest Celebration, which was launched shortly after Hogan took over as CEO.
Much land remains open space, and some is temporary home to solar power farms. A.D. Makepeace Company has developed a number of solar facilities as 20-year leases located in more remote wooded areas of its property holdings.
Other environmental activities in which A.D. Makepeace Company has taken a lead include working with the Division of Marine Fisheries to build an eel ladder at the Wankinco Dam, and the restoration of Red Brook, which runs along the Wareham/Plymouth line and empties into Buttermilk Bay on Cape Cod, to support the trout habitat there. The company also has erected and maintains about 200 bluebird boxes for the Eastern Bluebird, built and maintains numerous osprey nests, and six herring ladders to provide spawning access to Tihonet Pond in Wareham and White Island Pond and Halfway Pond in Plymouth.
The tagline articulated by Hogan still serves to guide the disparate entities. “It all ties together around the land, and protection of the land,” says Burke. “We describe ourselves as a diversified business. The diversity of our businesses is important to us, and it’s important to our sustainability and our whole operation.”
It’s a philosophy that benefits the company in numerous ways. “I believe the biggest benefit is trust. Regulators and neighbors trust us to do the right thing, because they have seen examples of the way we work,” says Hogan.