South Jersey Students Get Civics Lesson In Push For Legislation Making Cranberry Juice State Beverage

Students in Erin Zarzycki’s fourth-grade class want New Jersey to have an official beverage — and have persuaded their local lawmakers to back their proposal making cranberry juice a state symbol.

They turned a history lesson at Eleanor Rush Intermediate School in Cinnaminson into a civics project. They became lobbyists, writing letters and visiting the Statehouse to learn how a bill becomes a law. They also got a tough lesson in politics when the bill stalled.

“I think it has a good chance,” said Andrew Kenney, 9.

The class won over State Sen. Troy Singleton (D., Burlington) and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D., Burlington), who introduced bills in November. But the legislative session ended in January without a vote on the bills.

Now, the legislation has been reintroduced, and the fourth graders are optimistic it will eventually land on the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy, who could sign it and designate cranberry juice as the state beverage to celebrate New Jersey’s cranberry-growing heritage.

”This is their bill. I’m just the vehicle,” said Murphy. “Their involvement is extremely important for the issues of this bill.”

During a lesson on state symbols, the Rush elementary students were surprised to learn that the state doesn’t have a state beverage. They began brainstorming and soon rejected tomato juice because they didn’t think that would be popular. They turned down blueberry juice, too.

The bill credits the school’s fourth graders for their advocacy. Murphy recently sponsored a bill by a Voorhees girl that established a state muffin — blueberry cheesecake. Laws designating the blueberry as the state fruit and Hadrosaurus foulkii as the state dinosaur were proposed by students.

During a recent class, Zarzycki and special education teacher Jillian Watson provided an update on the bill.

The class has been carefully tracking the bill, which was assigned a new number when it was introduced again. Zarzycki cautioned that the governor could veto the measure if it is approved by lawmakers.

But, noted 10-year-old Madison Danowski, “they can override it.”

In their pitch to the lawmakers, the class conducted research about cranberries, which grow in sandy bogs in the Pinelands. Growers harvested 51.2 million pounds of cranberries on 3,100 acres in 2018. New Jersey ranks third in the country, with a crop production value of $15.8 million.

The tart berry is native to North America and was grown first by the Lenni-Lenape people of South Jersey, who used it in remedies, foods, and drinks. Most of the cranberries harvested in the state are sold to the Ocean Spray Cooperative, which is composed of more than 700 growers and which produces bottled cranberry juice and cranberry sauce.

Zarzycki said she was proud of her class for its commitment. The group hopes to return to the Statehouse for a bill signing, she said.

“We’re going to win this one. We’re going all out,” she said.

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