The North Carolina Blueberry Festival is back, featuring a lot of old favorites and something brand new
THE North Carolina Blueberry
Festival returns to Pender County
on June 18 after a two-year
hiatus caused by the pandemic.
Festivities include bands, a car and truck
show, cycling and running events, arts and
crafts vendors, and of course everything
blueberry — fresh local fruit from farmers
in Pender, New Hanover, Bladen, Duplin and
Sampson counties, and all manner of foods
and treats flavored with the yummy berry.
This year, festivalgoers will have the
opportunity to not only sample the flavorful,
nutrition-rich fruit, but also to learn about
where it comes from, research-based efforts to improve the crop,
and its importance to area growers.
The Pender County Extension Center is offering tours of the
NC State Horticulture Crops Research Station in Castle Hayne,
between Burgaw and Wilmington.
“We are going to offer bus tours, leaving from the office here the
day of the festival,” says Mark Seitz, Extension director in Pender
County. “We will take people down to the research facility in Castle
Hayne and have faculty members and researchers from NC State give
the general public a taste of what goes on behind the scenes to get a
blueberry plant from the plant breeding phase to production.”
The Extension office parking lot on Walker Street in Burgaw is an
overflow lot, with shuttles to and from the site
downtown. Seitz will have two buses available
in the morning to take interested patrons on a
25-minute ride to the research station, where
they can learn about plant breeding and vari-ety
development, improving fruit quality and
nutrition, the history of blueberries in North
Carolina, and harvesting and handling.
“We’ll get them down there for about an
hour, and there’s still time for them to come
back and buy funnel cakes and blueberries
and blueberry ice cream and listen to the
bands,” he says. “Maybe we can send them
home with a little better idea of how this all
got started and how to grow blueberries.”
The station is located on 111 acres just a few miles north of
Wilmington. Researchers primarily work with blueberries, strawber-ries
and muscadine grapes, testing new varieties for qualities such as
taste, yield and disease resistance, helping North Carolina growers
improve their crops.
“If we can get a couple of hundred people down there and teach
them a little bit about what it takes to get these crops from the
research phase to the market phase, it helps people see where their
food is coming from,” Seitz says. “We’re three or four generations
away from when the majority of us lived on farms. We’re losing that
connection quickly. It’s just a good teaching opportunity.”
Top to bottom: The North Carolina Blueberry Scholarship Pageant, music and dancing are once again on the schedule for this year’s North
Carolina Blueberry Festival in Pender County.
BY SIMON GONZALEZ
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA BLUEBERRY FESTIVAL