Florida festivals educate about crops, support teachersTwo commodity festivals are designed to educate the Sunshine State’s residents about the importance of blueberries and sweet corn.

In central Florida, the Florida Blueberry Growers Association is a major sponsor of the April 12-13 Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville and later in the month, south Florida’s corn industry hosts the Sweet Corn Fiesta in West Palm Beach.

Growers participate but the focus is on consumers, with vendors selling a variety of foods including blueberries, said festival board member Bill Braswell. He is the owner of Auburndale, Fla.-based Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation and farm manager of Bartow, Fla.-based Clear Springs Packing LLC.

Most people are stunned to learn the state grows blueberries and say they didn’t know the fruit existed in March and April outside of South America, said Braswell, the association’s immediate past president.

“The biggest problem we have in the Florida blueberry industry is we have an identity crisis,” he said. “Nobody knows when the Florida blueberry season exists.”

Organizers moved the event up a month earlier than last year to maximize the season, Braswell said.

Sponsoring the event (in its third year) through $25,000 should help develop the Florida market, he said.

Though Palm Beach County is one of the biggest U.S. sweet corn-producing counties, many of its eastern residents know little about where corn is grown and packed.

On April 27, Florida’s corn industry plans to change that by sponsoring the corn fiesta, now in its 14th year and held at South Florida Fairgrounds’ Yesteryear Village.

The growers and packers who work the event grew up in the business together and want to see the region and the industry prosper, said event co-organizer Anne Holt, co-owner of Belle Glade, Fla.-based Twin H Farms.

“Many in West Palm Beach think very negatively of the western part of the county and think anyone from the Glades isn’t educated, she said.

Many not in agriculture enjoy the fiesta and one Palm Beach family that moved to Louisiana returns every year, Holt said.

“If you mention Belle Glade or Pahokee, people have heard a lot of things, like drugs and killings, and those are out there, but there are a lot of good people there, too, just 25 miles away.”

Growers interact with the public through corn displays and eating and shucking contests, and packers sell crates of corn.

Proceeds generate funds for agriculture scholarships and area food charities and, new this year, support local teachers.

Growers plan to recognize teachers through an education week, which includes preparing a meal for school staffs as well as packages of local vegetables.

While children in the more affluent part of the county often give their teachers grocery store gift cards, most of the children’s parents in the economically depressed corn region aren’t involved in their children’s schools. The recognition could show the teachers they’re appreciated, Holt said.


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