For the love of blueberries

Annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival draws 10,000 visitors

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Hammonton is considered the unofficial “Blueberry Capital of The World.” The town proudly states the title on its website and prides itself on the healthful fruit. Even the town logo is a blueberry.

“The temperature, the sand, and the soil … it’s all great to grow blueberries,” explains John Runfolo, executive director of the Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce.

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Runfolo, who grew up in Newark, admittedly said he knew nothing about farming or blueberries. However, it’s something he has learned over the 50 years he has lived in Hammonton.

Come June 30, the chamber of commerce will host its 38th annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival, which pays homage to the blueberry, or Vaccinium corymbosum.

The first commercial sale of blueberries in New Jersey was 1916. The sale was made by Elizabeth Coleman White and her family of Whitesbog in Burlington County.

Atlantic Blueberry Company (The Galletta Brothers), based in Hammonton, transitioned their cranberry bogs to blues in the 1930s/1940s and it took off from there. The Bertino Brothers/Variety Farms in Hammonton were also major players sometime later.

Runfolo, who has a background in advertising, has been involved with the festival since the beginning. He became the chamber’s executive director in 2011.

“Our mission focuses on the importance of quality of life while supporting a vibrant economy,” he said, noting the farming of blueberries is a big part of the area.

The festival, which has always been a one-day affair, began modestly as part of the Atlantic County Sesquicentennial in 1987 with a few food vendors and crafters. And as it grew, it moved from Vine Street where Saint Joseph Academy is now and Fairview Avenue to its current location at Hammonton High School.

“It has always been held the week before Fourth of July,” Runfolo said, noting the festival falls perfectly during picking season.

The blueberry season for New Jersey lasts through the end of July, which is National Blueberry Month. During the height of blueberry season, production can be as high as 250,000 to 300,000 crates per day, according to information from the state.

New Jersey blueberry growers harvested 50.2 million utilized pounds from 10,800 acres in 2023. The value of utilized production was $92.1 million for 2023. Average price was $1.84 per pound, fourth highest nationally, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Along with the fact that the blueberry is good for one’s health, Runfolo said the festival took off after the highbush blueberry became the official state fruit in 2004.

The highbush blueberry, also known as the “New Jersey blueberry,” is the ideal symbol of “delicious and nutritious fruit.” Inspired by fourth graders at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Brick, the blueberry was designated as the official fruit on Jan. 12, 2004.

At the festival, fans of the fruit can find over one million blueberries in every form imaginable – pies, cannoli, turnovers, ices, crisp, ice cream, syrups … you name it! And/or simply freshly picked in crates.

The grounds of Hammonton High School accommodates 70 vendors including food, arts and crafts, a 300 car show, kiddy rides, and a live stage show.

From its humble beginnings of 1,000 to 2,000 visitors, the festival now draws upwards of 10,000 visitors from all over the East Coast to Hammonton. The festival has been featured in publications around the country, area television stations as well as worldwide on ESPN.

Runfolo said the festival, which is organized by an army of volunteers all year round, is free for everyone to enjoy. He does warn that it will be hard to leave empty handed with all that fresh blueberry aroma.

Mayor Stephen DiDonato said the blueberry festival is “a tremendous day for our great town.”

“The blueberry industry is a driving force in the town’s economic success,” he said. “The chamber of commerce sets aside a day every year in June to honor those hard-working farmers, who create such a wonderful product in our wonderful town.”

The 38th annual Red, White & Blue Festival is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 30 at Hammonton High School, 566 Old Forks Road.

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