Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Festival Celebrating Boom Crop for Rural Georgia; Blueberries Take Center Stage in Downtown Alma, along with Vendors, Rides, Music and More

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Festival Celebrating Boom Crop for Rural Georgia; Blueberries Take Center Stage in Downtown Alma, along with Vendors, Rides, Music and More

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Morrison

Bacon County's Georgia Blueberry Festival will pay homage this weekend to a fruit that had humble beginnings in the state, but has blossomed into a major cash crop.

According to Georgia Farm Bureau statistics, the state is on pace to produce 60 million pounds of the healthful berries this year, with a value set at $133 million. That's three times the value of the fruit the state is most famous for, its peaches.

Most of those berries are grown in the southern part of the state, with Alma, the Bacon County seat, serving as the epicenter of production.

"We're known as the Blueberry Capital of Georgia," festival official Vicki Vickers said.

The fruit first took root in Bacon County in the early 1970s, and the festival was first held in 1975. Production took a giant leap in the 1980s and 1990s, when health-conscious shoppers took notice and bought the berries for their cancer-preventing and heart-healthy properties.

Acreage devoted to blueberries in the state rose from 5,000 a decade ago to 20,000 now, according to the Farm Bureau.

This time of year, the second of two crops is ripe and ready, Vickers said. The first crop was damaged by a late frost and early blooming, but the late-blooming second crop is strong despite recent heavy rains, she said.

"We're in full production now, and we'll have berries and plants for sale at the festival," Vickers said. …

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