Brooksville’s sleepy town square was wide awake and buzzing for the fourth Annual Florida Blueberry Festival this past weekend. Quiet, business as usual was traded for busy, bustling streets packed with vendors, entertainment, and crowds. This year's event yielded quite a crop in attendance with thousands of festival goers from all over Florida and beyond. Though official numbers of attendees has not been confirmed, there is a buzz that this year's festivities set a notable record. The Blueberry Festival was born as the vision of Pam Wilfong and has grown substantially since its conception. The idea of creating a successful and prodigious festival in our tiny town was full of logistical obstacles. There were many who could not envision such objectives. None the less, the vision has reached fruition and indeed provides substantial exposure for Hernando County, a paramount campaign for local business. Patricia’s Boutique drew a crowd with their “Windows Come To Life” show featuring live, dancing mannequins and Ann of House Of Passage had her unique home store staged and perfectly poised to provoke interest. The cute as a button, Main Street General Store sold bottled coca-cola along with salty peanuts as a throwback to yesteryear.
A sweet part of the Nature Coast’s agriculture is its speckling of blueberry farms, so naturally Florida’s Official Blueberry Festival is appropriately positioned in Brooksville. Blueberry inspired culinary creations were peppered throughout the festival and included scones, muffins, pies, streusel, and even blueberry pork. Main Street Eatery, affectionately known by locals as the “pie pushers” served hundreds of sandwiches and sold out of their signature blueberry pulled pork on the first day. Owner of the quaint sandwich shop, Peggy Bell, worked well into the wee hours to restock and prepare for the second day of hungry, blueberry craving guests. “This is the fourth year of the festival and we have learned how to handle the huge crowds. This year the blueberry strudel with ice cream and whipped cream was a huge hit” said Peggy. Around the corner food vendors could be heard shouting about their corn dogs and cotton candy in true festival form but some unique street foods captured the senses of the scene. Jambalaya, paella, and creole etouffee were being cooked up in enormous cast iron skillets on the street, the aromas were reminiscent of a five star on the Louisiana bayou.
Unique libations were a refreshing offering of the weekend as well. Kegs were tapped and flowing with Blueberry Ale and ice cold bottles of Wild Blue Lager were a hit at the Main Street General Store. If a “cold one” didn’t fit the fancy, Island Grove Winery was on site pouring their Florida berry wines in souvenir glasses. The selection included wines called Sorta Sweet, Kinda Dry, and their best seller of the weekend, Blueberry Moscato. Island Grove is a blueberry farm tucked back in the woods, east of Ocala and boasts fruit forward wines that are made right in the middle of their grove. Brooksville’s very own wine shoppe, Brookstone Wines, offered a free wine tasting in their store across from the courthouse steps and had a record day in sales. “The only reason we didn’t offer tastings on the second day is because we ran completely out of wine by six o’clock on day one” said owner Zack Brown. The wines are blended and bottled on site and include the nostalgic “Brooksville Blueberry Shiraz”, every Brooksvillian should have a bottle of that on hand.
The Hernando County courthouse will turn 102 this year and has set the stage for a wide assortment of activities in its time. For the Blueberry Festival it presented hula hoopers and belly dancers, drum circles, and bluegrass, blues, and folk singers. City Hall was decked out in kid zone style with bounce houses a rock climbing wall, trampolines and a puppet stage. Kids of all ages were entertained with the juggling stilt walker and photo ops with “The Wiggles”. Big boy toys were on display at the car and truck exhibit and even included the bat bike and ironman’s chariot of choice. Mobile Zipline set up their zipline ride parallel to the courthouse and thrill seekers caught a birds eye view from the top. Other attractions included local bands, agriculture, and splendid local photography by Emilio “Sonny” Vergara.
Local businesses beyond the town square gained exposure and saw an increase in business as a result. Brooksville natives and brothers Ethan and Blair Hensley own the Florida Cracker Kitchen and served blueberry craft beer on tap and had a packed house both days of the event. Even the newly reopened, Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant joined the celebration with blueberry sangria and cheesecake and Queen Kathleen’s Honey bottled 3,200 pounds of honey for the festival. A great time was had by all at this years fourth Annual Florida Blueberry Festival. A job well done by the organizers, sponsors, workers and volunteers. This exciting event has become a great contributing factor to the vitality of our beloved, historic city. Blueberries and Brooksville...what a match!