Celebrating 100 Years of Piney Power with the Blueberry Festival
Jun 04, 2016 02:35PM
● By Sarah LaFleur
The South Jersey Pine Barrens is revered by nature enthusiasts for its rich ecological diversity. From its dense woodlands ideal for hiking and camping to its spacious lakes and rivers perfect for kayaking, the Pine Barrens offers flora and fauna to be enjoyed by anyone who ventures into its wilderness. South Jersey locals will celebrate the Pine Barrens for its most well-known and tasty feature—the blueberry—at the 33rd annual Blueberry Festival from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 25 and 26 at the Whitesbog Preservation Trust, in Pemberton Township.
This year’s Blueberry Festival celebrates 100 years of the cultivated blueberry. New Jersey’s state fruit and one of the only fruits native to the United States, the blueberry is sweet with heritage and history. Its story begins with the pioneering work of New Jersey native Miss Elizabeth Coleman White. Miss White was an arborist who grew up on her family’s cranberry plantation, White’s Bog. Her longtime dream was to domesticate the wild blueberries growing around the bog. In the early 1900s she teamed up with botanist Frederick Coville to achieve this dream, and in 1916 she actualized her goal and produced the first marketable crop of blueberries.
The blueberry was cultivated through a process of utilizing the unique ecological features of the Pine Barrens. According to GardenStateLegacy.com, the “acidic soil, moist temperatures, cross pollination and loamy, aerated soil for the shallow roots” are all necessary components to produce blueberries. Whitesbog Preservation Trust, host to the Blueberry Festival, educates the public about the important convergence of nature and community. As Whitesbog Preservation Trust Director Allison Pierson says, the blueberry is the “product of local Pine Barrens ecology and the local community coming together to create the first commercially available blueberry.”
Miss White’s achievement of developing the first commercially available blueberry still exercises enormous influence on local residents of the Pine Barrens and attendees of the annual Blueberry Festival. Val Flores, a lifelong resident of Burlington County who currently resides in Tabernacle, grew up working on her uncle’s blueberry farm in Pemberton. From the influence of Miss White’s pioneering work and her early experiences cultivating the New Jersey fruit, Flores understands the blueberry season and the impact of the crop on her family. She recalls, “Some of my fondest memories growing up were spent working on my Uncle Ed Bush’s blueberry farm. When the season started it was nonstop picking, sorting, and packing until the last berry was shipped. It was a short season but the days were long.”
Though blueberry picking required hard work, she also recalls the feeling of conviviality amongst herself and the community as they would have fun by starting blueberry fights or making conversation. She cherishes these memories and is grateful to commemorate them at events like the Blueberry Festival. “I’m glad the Blueberry Festival continues as it such a large part of the area’s history,” she adds.
For locals like Flores, blueberries are not just a tasty fruit to be enjoyed in the spring and summer, but an important part of her family and community’s history. The Blueberry Festival works to honor this important relationship between the community and nature. It celebrates this connection enthusiastically at the event. “The festival is a combination of agro-tourism and arts,” adds Pierson. It showcases local crafters, artists, and food venders to provide a fun community event centralized upon the delicious blueberry developed by White. This family-friendly event offers educational lectures, bluegrass performances, and wagon tours of the blueberry’s birthplace. The Blueberry Festival will draw many locals eager to learn about New Jersey heritage and celebrate tradition with savoring delicious blueberries.
Event location: 120 Whitesbog Rd. Whitesbog Preservation Trust location: Whites Bogs Rd., #34, in Pemberton. For more information, call 609-636-3773 or visit Whitesbog.org.