Nov 2, 2011
Florida takes advantage of gap in blueberry market

Hundreds of small blueberry farms have opened in the Sunshine State in the past three decades, and blueberry production has increased more than tenfold in the past decade. The farmers hope to capitalize on their climate by providing fresh blueberries when their competitors in the North can’t. Florida produces only a fraction of the blueberries that industry leader Michigan does, but from mid-March to mid-April, its farmers dominate the market.

"It’s just unbelievable how this thing has changed," said Ken Patterson, who owns the Island Grove Farm, one of Florida’s oldest blueberry farms. "Twenty years ago, when we held a Florida Blueberry Growers Association meeting we’d have 40 to 50 people at a good meeting. In November, we expect 400 people there."

Patterson, who was once a funeral director, has more than 150 acres filled with 6-foot-tall blueberry bushes in Hawthorne and nearly 200 acres of blueberries some 200 miles south in Arcadia. There are so many blueberry farms in the area just east of Gainesville that Patterson and other growers opened a 27,000-square-foot packing and distribution plant last year. USA Today

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