Molly Beauchemin

Maine Blueberry Festival and the Value of Regional Produce

A few years ago New England was hit with a scandal when McDonald’s created a “blueberry shortage” in New England. The multinational fast-food corporation was buying so many blueberries from small farms across New England that they robbed locals of a chance to buy berries before they were purchased for use in McDonald’s “Fruit n’ Yogurt” parfaits.

McDonald’s attempt to incorporate local produce into their products was considered progress by some– after all, people love to see big companies embrace “local food”– but really, the “blueberry shortage” obviated something that most Americans hadn’t realized until the time of shortage: that farms in New England– specifically, Maine– still produce 99% of the nation’s native-grown blueberries.

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Last weekend, Garden Collage investigated the 39th-annual Blueberry Festival in Kennebunk, a coastal town in Southern Maine that is known for its pristine beaches, gorgeous waterfront property, and rocky, majestic coast.

DSC_0767Blueberries have become a point of local pride in Kennebunk, where local produce purveyors stock blue-paper quarts of blueberries throughout the high summer months, and nearby pick-your-own blueberry farms in Wells attract locals and tourists far and wide.

Still, the Maine Blueberry Festival feels like a small-time affair: the venders sell locally-made pies, blueberry ice cream, blueberry soap and candles, and other blueberry confections made with the state’s most famous berry.

Similar festivals exist across the United States: the Georgia Peach Festival in Peach County, Georgia; Melon Days Festival in Green River, Utah; AvocadoFest in Carpenteria, California: all of these events showcase something unique about the region while giving local communities an opportunity to reflect on the produce that defines their region.

In many ways, these old traditions actively reflect on the future of food in America: if Americans want to support local farms, better farmers markets, and improved health for their children, they need to support local produce festivals, which are a fun and unique way to engage with local growers and get tips for home gardening. There’s nothing better than eating fresh avocados in California, juicy citrus in Florida, colorful cherries in Michigan, or lush peaches in Georgia. Produce festivals provide opportunities to travel and to see the country through the lens of native, regional agriculture.

In Maine, the local “produce celebrity” is the humble blueberry– a favorite in the region for generations. With small-town events like the Maine Blueberry Festival, the region has an opportunity to celebrate what makes it unique– and to share a taste of Maine gardens with the rest of the world.

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