August 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm

South Haven serves up a delicious blueberry festival

Pies, muffins and other goodies will be on hand at South Haven's National Blueberry Festival. (Kelly K. Weber)

Step aside, cherries. It’s time to celebrate that other Michigan fruit: blueberries.

Downtown South Haven will be blueberry central Thursday through Sunday with activities celebrating one of Michigan’s most popular fruits. The fun kicks off with a blueberry pie and ice cream social (a good way to get to know locals and visitors), a blueberry pie eating contest for kids (always fun), blueberry pancake breakfasts, a beach party with fresh blueberries topped with Reddi Wip and a parade (complete with machines that harvest blueberries).

“When we say blueberry festival, we mean blueberries. We love our blueberries,” says Susan Diepen, marketing chair of the National Blueberry Festival. “The social is a good way to get things going. You can have a slice of pie and a scoop of ice cream, sit down ... meet people and get to know who’s in town for the weekend.”

That would be a lot of people. Some 50,000 to 60,000 visitors will swarm South Haven (population 4,500) for the festival, one of the oldest blueberry celebrations in the country, marking its 51st year. Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of blueberries, and most of the growers are near South Haven in Van Buren, Allegan and Berrien counties.

The festival has grown from a simple harvest event and bake-offs, but the emphasis remains on the little blue fruit. Encouraging festivalgoers to visit pick-your-own blueberry farms and farmers markets is a big part of the celebration.

“We really feel that the agriculture is a big part of why we do the festival, and we want to make sure farmers get recognition,” Diepen says. “Blueberries are a big part of our economy here, and farmers are a large part of our community. A lot of people here are (tied) to farming families. We grow a large part of the nation’s blueberries here in just a few counties.”

Blueberry Central, held at the Huron Pavilion (the site of twice weekly farmers markets), features everything blueberry: pies, muffins, plants, fresh blueberries and blueberry-infused mustard, barbecue sauce and more.

The festival schedule is peppered with other activities, including a run, sidewalk sales, beach yoga, volleyball tournaments, a book sale, kids activities and live entertainment.

South Haven is about three hours west of Detroit on Lake Michigan.

National Blueberry Festival

National Blueberry Festival

5-9 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday, 7 a.m-7 p.m. Sunday

Downtown South Haven

Admission free