March Blueberry Festival a Draw for Blueberry Fans Near and Far
by MARY TOOTHMAN
The Official Florida Blueberry Festival, founded in 2010, draws tens of thousands of visitors to Brooksville for blue fun each year in the form of its weekend-long, family-oriented event.
The festival, originally held in downtown Brooksville in Hernando County, has grown each year. It brings more than 60,000 festival-goers to the area in a two-day weekend.
“The Florida Blueberry Festival is held during the harvest of Florida Blueberries,” says Michael Heard, festival spokesperson. “Many blueberry enthusiasts that live and visit Florida have no idea that blueberries are grown here, and many of the local farms are U-pick farms, so by making consumers aware there are local berries grown — they will seek out the farms or ask their local grocers for them.”
The Florida Blueberry Festival began as an economic development vehicle for Brooksville, to bring recognition to the Florida Blueberry Industry and provide more funding to local, non-profit civic groups.
Changes were in order, however, to allow for growth. The downtown location limited the event to being open for only two days, and the expenses of state road closures, city services, rental of temporary security fencing and generators and fuel became an issue.
Operations were put on hold for 2018 while a new location was found, one that could handle the festival’s growth. This year, the event will be hosted on the newly created Formosa Gardens Event Center.
“The new venue will be able to accommodate over double our last festival’s attendance, which was 60,000 plus,” Heard says. “The festival takes almost an entire year to plan. After the festival ends, our limited volunteer staff takes a few weeks off and starts right up, planning, recruiting, interviewing talent, etcetera.”
The festival can be extended for two more days this year, and many of the expenses brought on by the downtown locations can be eliminated.
The 2019 Florida Blueberry Festival in Kissimmee will be a four-day festival with a minimal entrance fee. There will be free music on amphitheater grounds, a wine bar presented by the Island Grove Wine Company Formosa Gardens and a beer garden with craft and domestic selections.
“The official Florida Blueberry Festival is unlike any other,” Heard says. “It will be located on 19.5 acres of beautifully landscaped property, with decorative fencing, underground utilities and overhead lighting.”
The food court will feature 20 food concessionaires. An adjoining large picnic table dining area with colorful umbrellas will be set up.
The site will be able to accommodate 300 10×10 exhibitor booth spaces and 180 retail and information exhibitors. Some 120 of the spaces will be designated for Fine Arts and Crafts. A juried art show presented by Tampa Bay Magazine will allow artists to participate and have a chance to win $6,000 in cash awards.
There will be specific areas set up for the sale of Florida blueberries, blueberry pies, blueberry plants and many other blueberry products.
A VIP Hospitality Pavilion will be set up, and a Blueberry Patch Kids Zone will be provided — with outdoor inflatable bouncers, a bungee jumping and rock climbing area and other activities for children of all ages.
The grounds of Formosa Gardens Event Center will have solid surface walkways and underground utilities that will provide exhibitors electricity, with potable water. The grounds will be equipped with overhead lighting and a loudspeaker system for safety and night venues.
There will be 24-hour security, and EMS be on the premises during the festival. Security will remain on property for the off-hours.
The center has parking available onsite, with several satellite parking areas within walking distance and trolley transportation.
Beneficiaries for this year’s festival will be:
- Florida Blueberry Growers Association (Education- Research & Marketing)
- The Community Hope Center – Osceola County
- The Sunshine Foundation – Dream Village – Polk County
- Autism Society of Greater Orlando – Orange County
- Local 501c working as part of the event staff
Formosa Garden’s Event Center, 3050 Formosa Garden Blvd., Kissimmee, FL 34747
March 28, Thursday – 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
March 29, Friday – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
March 30, Saturday – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
March 31, Sunday – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Children 9 and under are free.
Satellite parking is $8 and includes free trolley transportation to the festival entrance.
Walkable parking is $10
Onsite parking is $12
March 28, Thursday: Doug Demming & The Jewel Tones, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Tim Elliott, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Legacy, 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
March 29, Friday: Blue Mason Barter Duo, 11 a.m. to noon; Lagerheads, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Kettle of Fish, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; JAH Movement, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Lazy Bonez, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; The Purple Madness (Prince tribute), 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.;
March 30, Saturday: Dueling Pianos, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Billy Rice, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.; America Made, 2:30 to 4 p.m.; AM (Blues Brothers tribute) 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Let’s Hang On (Frankie Valli tribute) 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Tim Elliott, 8 to 9:30 p.m.
March 31, Sunday: Yesterdayze, 11 a.m. to noon; Lauren Mitchell, 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Chubby Carrier, 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Florida Blueberry Festival – 407-507-0015