It’s a super food that packs a wallop — the tiny sphere that is a blueberry.
Celebrate the blueberry at the height of its season at the Mount Dora Blueberry Festival, which is April 23–24 on the lake at Elizabeth Evans Park. Joseph Steed organized the event through Festivals of Florida and is excited to celebrate “Blueberries — the new Citrus!”
Mount Dora begins the two-day festival with a blueberry pancake breakfast starting Friday morning at 8. Last year, this event drew around 500 people, and more are expected this year. In addition to the blueberry pancakes made with locally grown fruit, the breakfast includes sausage, orange juice, and coffee for $7.
Most people know most of the citrus groves in Central Florida disappeared after the freeze of 1989, and Steed says many of the citrus growers have replaced orange trees with blueberry bushes. According to the University of Florida, the low-chill southern high bush blueberry does best in Central Florida.
The blueberry loves the cold in New Jersey, and the state has always been the largest producer. However, the advantage of growing blueberries in Florida is the crop comes in significantly earlier, and being the first at market is always best in terms of revenue.
“Our blueberries come in first, so we are putting our blueberries into a fresh market with open supply and demand,” Steed says. “There are 27 varieties and they are continuing to produce more varieties that can survive and grow in Central Florida. They like dry and wet environments. Those that grow in Central Florida are different from those grown in North and South Florida.”
Last year was the first blueberry festival, and it came about due to Steed’s visit to the state festival. “It was a carnival atmosphere and I really thought we could do better than that,” he says. “I approached the City of Mount Dora, and they were all for it. After all, they’re the city of festivals.”
Steed wanted the festival to celebrate the true value of the blueberry: its health benefits and its importance to Central Florida’s economy.
“We thought of the festival as a stool with three legs: economic, food, and health,” Steed says.
Among the vendors at last year’s event were a gastroenterologist, a chiropractor, and an oral surgeon.
One of the big changes from last year’s festival is all vendors this year are required to have something related to blueberries. “All the food products, craft beers, wines, and even crafts need to relate to blueberries,” Steed says. “It was difficult for people to find that last year, so this year we’re requiring everyone to do it. Even if they’re doing T-shirts, they need to have blueberries on them.”
Another change is for the food vendors, with balloons indicating where they’re located. “We’re marking all the food vendors with three blueberry-colored balloons,” Steed explains. “Many of our vendors sold out before the end of the day last year. We had between 8,500 and 10,000 people last year, and we hope to have more this year. We’re looking to have about 130 vendors this year.”
There will be plenty of fresh blueberries from a variety of Central Florida growers, but there may not be many growers at the event. In order to celebrate blueberries at the peak of their harvest, it means producers may be too busy.
“Because the festival comes during the harvesting season, and it’s right in the middle of the season, the growers are trying to get the fruit picked and to market, which is why a lot of the growers aren’t represented,” Steed says. “After they get all that harvested and the market is glutted, that’s when you see the U-pick signs go up.”
There will be entertainment from the popular Mount Dora band TNT with Janelle while visitors stroll through the vendors. It’s a sure thing you won’t be “blue” after visiting the Mount Dora Blueberry Festival.
Mount Dora Blueberry Festival
April 23–24, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Elizabeth Evans Park (end of Donnelly Street)