This week in the grocery store I was delighted to see the first fresh cranberries of the season. I bought a bag and will make cranberry bread with it soon. It might seem odd in Kansas but, for me, those cranberries are one of the surest signs of fall and a reminder of home.

Where I grew up, cranberries are a big deal. My parents live in the Wisconsin county with the highest number of acres in cranberry production in the U.S., most of their neighbors grow them, and I even took cranberry science in high school.

I love sharing fun facts about cranberries like they do not grow in water. The image you may be thinking of where people are in hip waders with water past their knees is actually during cranberry harvest. Since cranberries are buoyant, the beds where they grow are flooded to make removing berries from the vines with a beater and then collection at one end of the bed easier.

Cranberry growers also use water to protect their crop. Harvest is typically from the end of September through October, when the nights are getting cold enough that the berries are at risk of frost damage.  Growers have alarm systems to alert them of dangerous temperatures. When the alarms sound, they start their irrigation systems to coat the berries in water. As the water freezes a process called heat of fusion occurs and enough heat is given off to protect the crop.

The cold is a necessary part of the fruit’s development as lower temperatures contribute to deepening the berry’s red color, which can bring a premium on the crop. There is something inspirational about the fact that the closer cranberries come to being destroyed, the more they increase in value.

There are actually lots of plant equivalents to the saying “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Drought stressed wheat will have higher protein content. Giant Sequoia seeds can only germinate after a fire. Adversity is sometimes the most effective way for us to gain the character that we need to succeed in life.

One particular memory from my childhood comes to my mind when I think about failure pushing us to be our best. When I was 11, I took tractor safety to get my permit so I could drive on public roads. Since I was a relatively inexperienced driver, my dad spent time with me practicing all the components of the test. My dad tried to be patient but to the delight of my older brothers, I was a natural at all the wrong moves, and I am sure my dad was embarrassed.

Within the first 30 seconds of the test, I ran over a pole on the course, which gave me enough points that one more mistake would cause me to fail the test. However, I was determined to pass the test and prove to my brothers I could do it. I took a few breaths and proceeded through the course with as much skill and focus as an 11-year-old could muster. I didn’t make another mistake for the remainder of the test and received my certificate.

That same lesson has repeated itself through my life dozens of times when I was on the verge of failure. In those moments, I learned important lessons in life and how capable I really am. We all could benefit from acting more like cranberries by realizing that the closer you get to failure, the bigger the reward will be.