The Blueberry Festival, a celebration of agriculture in the Deerfield Valley, runs through Aug. 8 with events in Dover, Halifax, Marlboro, Townshend, Wilmington and Whitingham.
“We’re trying to recognize, and encourage others to recognize, our agricultural roots in this valley,” said farmer Janet Boyd, the spark behind the celebration.
Boyd, co-owner of the Boyd Family Farm in Wilmington, said she chose blueberries because they doubled as an important valley crop and, since they’re blue, offered a “quirky” hook even non-farmers could have fun with.
Named one of 2010’s Top 10 Summer Events by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Boyd said events are affordable for locals and tourists alike.
One example of this was the opening celebration, where organizers dumped 100 gallons of blue Jell-O on a tarp for kids to jump into.
“[The festival] is a wonderful addition to the valley,” said Boyd, a family farmer whose young grandchildren mark the sixth generation in the area.
Visitors will have the chance to catch the blue-fever by participating in 60 events valley-wide from stores discounting blue items, to blueberry pancake breakfasts, to a pajama party and story time, to “Blueberry Bingo” games.
This year’s Blueberry Parade on July 31 in Dover drew about 1,500 people, said Boyd and Laura Sibilia, executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce.
That’s more than double the 700 people in attendance last year.
Visitors from as far away as Austria, Korea, China and Australia attended Saturday’s parade.
“We were pretty tickled,” said Boyd, adding a core group of volunteers and the Chamber help make the week a success.
The Town of Dover Economic Development Fund, Merchants Bank, RSN Resort TV, People’s United Bank and the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, along with the Boyd Family Farm, helped sponsor the weeklong festival.
“We’re pretty impressed,” said Sibilia about the turnout. She said the organizers look forward to expanding the festival next year.
Boyd said people have come to her with plans for 2011. One area farm is suggesting a contest to search for “the bluest eyes” and a local charity is suggesting a blueberry ball.
Boyd and her family cultivate highbush blueberries. She said new pick-your-own (PYO) customers have come to the farm since the festival started in 2008. She loves it when kids ask if the plants have pesticides, because to her it means they have learned a little about the importance of organic and local food.
“Nothing on our berries but rainwater,” she answers.
She also likes seeing kids at PYO because she feels the experience helps create wonderful memories for them and these wonderful memories produce future local food buyers.
Boyd and her family work off the farm to help pay the bills. She said her family works hard, but is also fortunate.
“[Life in this area] is different. It’s a little more soothing on your soul,” she said, remembering a PYO visitor who relaxed on the grass while his children picked berries because it was the first time in a long time he felt his kids were safe.
But she wants people to remember that farm life is also difficult.
“And it’s not romantic. And it’s not Bob Newhart,” she said.
Wild blueberries, sometimes called low-bush blueberries, grow throughout New England. The development of highbush blueberries started in 1908 by Dr. F.V. Coville, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 1937, Vermonter Dr. George Darrow took over the USDA blueberry breeding program, explained University of Vermont Extension Berry and Fruit Specialist Vern Grubinger.
To test varieties of blueberry plants, Darrow established sites in 13 states. One site, Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, belonged to his brother, Bill Darrow, who first planted the highbush blueberries in 1948.
“[Local food] is a part of you,” said Boyd. “You can’t have food travel 500 miles and be as nutritious. It’s crucial we maintain local food.”