What started as a way to get rid of the last remaining berries of the season has flourished into a beloved tradition.
The Tampa Bay Blueberry Festival launched in 2008, and it just may be the area’s sweetest secret.
The festival began as a U-pick event at Keel and Curley Winery. Blueberries are grown in Florida until about March. Then, beginning in mid-April, they are grown all the way from Georgia to Michigan. This gives Florida growers a narrow window to sell their blueberries.
“We have about a 30- to 45-day period, where demand is high enough to sell to grocery chains,” Clay Keel, event and marketing manager, says.
Once other growers in the United States start selling in April, there is less demand for Florida blueberries. So, instead of trying to sell them, the winery decided to host a U-pick, as a way to clear the trees of the berries.
With 25 acres of blueberries, there’s plenty of blueberries to be picked during the festival. However, Keel urges those who want to pick to come early.
Last year, Keel says there were 500 people on the field by 10 a.m.
“It usually takes two days, with 125 people picking, to clear the fields, so you can imagine how quickly it’ll take with 500 people,” Keel says. “Get it while supplies lasts.”
About 1,000 came through the fields during the first year of the festival. Last year, Keel and Curley nearly reached its capacity, with about 8,000 people coming through during the two-day event.
From just three vendors, the festival has grown to host a variety of booths, including arts and crafts, non-profit organizations, food, desserts and more.
“It really has caught on on its own,” Keel says.
With its growth, the festival has strived to add new features throughout its history. And, this year is no different.
The festival has made moves to attract more musical entertainment. This year, four bands will take the Plant City Observer Stage: Robert Harris, Faces South, The Corkscrews, and Heffner and Hefner.
New additions to the Kids Zone include a traveling game truck filled with arcade games and a challenging laser tag course with obstacles and cover spots.
And it couldn’t be a festival hosted by a winery without a little wine. Keel and Curley will be debuting two limited-edition wines at the festival — Strawberry Shortcake and a new dry blueberry. The Strawberry Shortcake wine is being made from 100% strawberry juice left over from St. Clement Catholic Church’s shortcake booth at the Florida Strawberry Festival. The blueberry wine has been oak-aged for six months.seo