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Brooksville to host first official state Blueberry Festival in May

BROOKSVILLE — Blue, as in the mopes, is out of the question.

Rather, current thoughts of blue are shot through with excitement and anticipation as planning proceeds for the first official state Blueberry Festival, planned for next May 4-6 in Hernando County.

Michael Heard is heading up a festival committee of some 20 business, community, tourism and economic development leaders to organize the event, which will kick off with a Friday evening parade. All activities will be staged on the streets, sidewalks and band shell park in downtown Brooksville, Heard said.

Entertainment planning is under way. Envisioned are a blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry pie-eating contest, attractions for kids such as face painting and juggling performances, lots of musical productions and possibly a recipe contest, Heard said.

As at any festival, vendors will be on hand. They will pay a fee for space and will be screened.

"We will be taking (vendor) applications beginning in October," Heard said. "We want to be sure of the right vendor mix, food and art, not your garden variety event."

Of course, growers will be represented, not only offering the fresh harvest but blueberry bushes and advice on how to grow them.

Festival organizers raised some $47,500 at a kickoff gala last month, attended by some 400 enthusiasts from throughout the blueberry region.

Unveiled was a promotional animated video to spread word of the festival and seek additional dollars. Clips from the video will begin airing on TV channels beginning in January, Heard said.

Hernando is in the heart of Florida's 15-county blueberry growing region, which ranges from Alachua in the north to DeSoto in the south, from the Gulf Coast in the west to Okeechobee in the east.

Hernando County Extension director Stacy Strickland estimates that blueberries rank as No. 1 or No. 2 among the non-citrus agricultural crops in the state. Recent state figures put the annual harvest at 18 million pounds.

More than 50 acres are planted with blueberries in Hernando County. While the acreage itself may not appear impressive, consider that each acre can yield up to 8,000 pounds of the sweet berries in a single season.

When Strickland began his job here in 2004, he said blueberries were a niche crop. But the necessary ingredients to grow were here: the soil, sand atop a clay base; the climate; and small farming plots.

"Everybody seemed to get the same idea at the same time," he said, and blueberry production has since expanded and flourished. U-pickers flock in to fill small buckets with the succulent glossy, blue-to-purple globes.

Even European countries have sought out Florida's best blueberries. At least one grower in Hernando is certified to export the fruit to Europe, Strickland noted.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Brooksville to host first official state Blueberry Festival in May 06/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 8:08pm]
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