Michigan is the largest blueberry producing state in the country, and Van Buren County produces the most blueberries in Michigan.
“It’s natures perfect fruit, if you stop and think about it. There’s not any seeds that you have to deal with. You don’t have to peel it. You rinse it. You eat it. And not only do they taste good, they’re good for you,” Shelly Hartmann said.
Hartmann owns The Blueberry Store in downtown South Haven and a huge blueberry farm, True Blue Farms, in Grand Junction.
At The Blueberry Store you can get just about anything with blueberries in it. “Blueberries aren’t just for pancakes and muffins anymore,” Hartmann said.
I spot blueberry bath soaps, blueberry coffee, frozen and fresh blueberries, blueberries in brats and sausages, chocolate covered blueberries, blueberry candles, dog treats, mustard, popcorn, soda pop, butter, cookies, pancake mix, pie filling, jam, jelly and blueberry whoopee pies. Plus there’s dried blueberries, and even blueberry flavored beef jerky. The list goes on and on.
Hartman says this year’s crop has been affected by the dry conditions, but fared much better than other fruits grown in the region.
The National Blueberry Festival celebrating the region’s top fruit crop in South Haven is nearly 50 years old. Organizers typically expect around 40,000 people to come for the blueberry pancake breakfast, the live music, a blueberry parade and the very messy but very entertaining blueberry pie eating contest.
Here's a video the festival posted on youtube of one of the blueberry pie eating contests Friday afternoon.
Winning contestants come in with strategies. “Put your whole face in it and just whip your head back and forth,” Taylor Hodge suggests. “Yeah, move it to the side,” Sydney Todd smiled. Both are from South Haven and have competed several times over the years.
“It’s so much fun to make a mess,” Paul Layendecker said. A host of a radio show in South Haven, he's served as the emcee for the last 17 years. He says the festival is one of the best ways to highlight southwest Michigan.
Layendecker’s do not miss of the festival? The fish boil dinner Saturday night.
“Sounds so strange, but it’s the best. Once you’ve had it you’ll come back every single year. Hundreds of people stand in line for hours and hours and hours for boiled salmon, potatoes and onions, covered in butter and it is fantastic. It tastes like lobster.”