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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pilgrimage to the Home of Highbush Blueberries

A century ago, farmer Elizabeth White and USDA Researcher Frederik Coville experimented with cultivation of wild highbush blueberries from the pine barrens of New Jersey.   If you want to see the beginnings, travel east from Philadelphia about one hour to Whitesbog.   Set your GPS to:

Whitesbog Preservation Trust

120 W Whites Bogs Rd #34
Browns Mills, NJ 08015
The short version:
Elizabeth White was a lady cranberry farmer at the turn of the century in the Pine forests of South New Jersey.   Her father was a cavalry officer at nearby Fort Dix.  It was incredibly rare to see a woman running a large scale farm operation in those days!    Each day she walked from her home (which is still there) down a shady road to her vast cranberry bogs.   She marveled at the abundance of wild blueberries in the forest and dreamed of the day that this could be cultivated into a commercial crop.   Wild highbush blueberries are not economically feasible for production and harvesting.   Elizabeth met up with a USDA researcher named Frederic Coville who also shared this dream.   The teamed up to perform the experiments which led to the development of highbush blueberry production.   They learned that blueberries required specific acidic soil types similar to the forests of New Jersey.   Elizabeth paid a bounty to local hunters to bring back big beautiful blueberry plants to her experimental farm.  (which is still there!)
The result: highbush blueberries flourished, and by 1916, her first commercial crop was market.   Yes, the Centennial is coming up!  And stay tuned as it will be a big celebration!    Elizabeth White's work has led to the development of a blueberry industry in 28 states and around the world!

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