Plump, juicy, and sweet blueberries are proof that good things do come in small packages.
Long hailed as a powerful antioxidant super food, blueberries will be celebrated in all their glory at the third annual Mount Dora Blueberry Festival. Fresh-picked blueberries from local fields will take center stage, along with vendors showcasing blueberry baked goods, blueberry-themed crafts, and blueberry wine and beer.
One vendor even plans to bring blueberry barbecue sauce.
“All of the food vendors will offer something that involves blueberries,” says Joseph Steed, festival organizer with the nonprofit Festivals of Florida Inc., who notes every vendor was asked to bring at least one blueberry product to the event.
The admission-free festival runs 9am-5pm April 29-30 on the shores of Lake Dora at Elizabeth Evans Park, 100 N. Donnelly St. Visitors will be able to partake in a wide range of activities, including a blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry baking contest, judging, and sales, a blueberry pie-eating contest, and music by the Judy Family Bluegrass Band and Bobby Blackmon.
Everybody thinks we are all about oranges, but we are not. Blueberries are really growing in popularity here in Lake County. —Janet Gamache
A variety of fun things will be offered for kids to enjoy at the festival, while blueberry growers will be selling fresh blueberries picked from their farms. After all, fresh raw berries can be a delight to savor on breakfast cereal, folded in yogurt, topped on ice cream, or enjoyed naturally by the handfuls for maximum nutritional benefit.
“Local, fresh blueberries are always best; you can tell a difference,” says Janet Gamache, event coordinator. “There will be jars of goodies and blueberry baked goods that people will be selling to take home, too. It will be a nice, eclectic mix.” The current blueberry crop totals about 17 million pounds, organizers say, and the main focus of the Mount Dora Blueberry Festival is to showcase the agricultural significance of blueberries to the local economy. “A lot of people have no idea that blueberries are the new citrus,” Janet says. “Everybody thinks we are all about oranges, but we are not. Blueberries are really growing in popularity here in Lake County.”
The blueberry boom began after the 1989 freeze wiped out orange groves, and growers replaced citrus trees with blueberry bushes. Two types of blueberries grow well in Florida: the rabbiteye, in areas where winters are as cold or colder than in Ocala, and the southern highbush adapts well in Lake County and areas south of Ocala and north of Sebring, according to the University of Florida.
“Blueberries are popping up everywhere we once had citrus,” adds Joseph, who notes blueberries grow well in Florida’s central ridge from Lake City to Lake Wales, where there are more hills, and high and dry land, rather than swampy areas.
“We are blueberry central,” he says.
“The whole blueberry festival really has been a phenomenon.
It is the first one, the biggest, and growing the fastest.” — Joseph Steed
After visiting the state festival in Brooksville, Joseph felt a local festival was needed to celebrate the agricultural and economic impact of blueberries in Lake County and Central Florida. Mount Dora city officials welcomed the idea, and Joseph credits Janet and fellow team members Brian Young and Sandy Farnsworth with having the necessary festival expertise to make it happen. The Mount Dora Blueberry Festival kicked off in 2015 with about 8,000 people attending. It grew to an estimated 35,000 attendance in 2016, and Joseph predicts 50,000 will be at this month’s event.
“The whole blueberry festival really has been a phenomenon. It is the first one, the biggest, and growing the fastest,” he says of the Festivals of Florida venue. “Every grower that was at the event last year sold out of everything they brought. In five years, I think we will have the most attendance of any blueberry festival in Florida, and that is my goal. Once they get that new connector [road] from Orlando coming right to Mount Dora, it is going to open it up to a lot more people. They can get into Mount Dora much quicker, and I think when that happens, we’ll see an explosion in attendance.”
Joseph envisions the Mount Dora Blueberry Festival surpassing the Brooksville event.
“It’s a different demographic, and people love coming to Mount Dora. It’s a festival city, and the huge population base puts us in the position to grow a bigger festival,” he says, recalling many festivalgoers praised last year’s event with the common refrain: “We love blueberries and we’re glad somebody is doing this!”
Do you love baking? Find details and an application for the blueberry-baking contest posted at festivalsofflorida.com/blueberry.
“Last year, about 30 people entered and they brought in some delicious stuff,” Joseph says, adding the pie-eating contest for kids also was a big hit.
“They had a grand time with blueberries all over themselves. It was fun,” he says, recalling growers ran out of blueberries on the first day and were scrambling to get more. “They had to rush back and pick blueberries for the next day,” Joseph recalls. “They were setting up lights and picking blueberries under the lights.”
He believes visitors will enjoy hearing the music by Bobby Blackmon and the Judy Family Bluegrass Band, which has deep historical ties to Mount Dora. Wyona Judy’s maiden name was Drawdy, and her great-grandmother was Dora Ann Drawdy—one of the first settlers in Mount Dora and the woman for whom surveyors named Lake Dora in 1846.
• Touted as one of the “super foods”
• Lowers risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer
• Improves brain health
• Decreases inflammation
• Helps moderate blood sugar levels
• Rich in antioxidants of vitamins C, B complex, E, A, K1, zinc, iron, copper, and selenium
• Only 80 calories per cup
• Virtually no fat; naturally free of sodium
• Lowers blood cholesterol levels
• Improves glucose control and insulin sensitivity
• Contains phytonutrients called polyphenols
• Fights urinary infections
• Helps reduce belly fat
• Vital source of manganese for bone development and to convert carbs into energy
• Good source of dietary fiber to promote healthy digestive tract
• Decreases risk of DNA damage and increases lifespan
• Reduces risk of cognitive decline and Parkinson’s disease
• One cup of blueberries provides 24 percent of daily needs for vitamin C—vital to promote collagen’s ability to improve skin texture and smooth wrinkles
• Possibly vital in fight against Alzheimer’s disease
If You Go
What: Third annual Mount Dora Blueberry Festival
When: 9am-5 pm April 29-30
Where: Elizabeth Evans Park, 100 N. Donnelly St.
Activities: Crafters, blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry-baking contest, judging, and sales, a blueberry pie-eating contest, and growers with blueberries for sale.
Entertainment: Music by the Judy Family Bluegrass Band and Bobby Blackmon.
For more information: festivalsofflorida.com/blueberry