Research Center Tours Offered to Blueberry Festivalgoers

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When the North Carolina Blueberry Festival returns to Pender County on June 18 after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, attendees can expect the usual — live music, a classic car show, arts and crafts vendors. And, of course, lots of blueberries for sale from area farmers, along with a plethora of foods and treats flavored with the yummy berry.

Related: Blueberry scientist berries on during pandemic 

This year, Extension’s Pender County Center is offering another option. Festival-goers will have the opportunity to learn about NC State Extension’s research-based efforts to improve the crop and its importance to area growers by touring the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Castle Hayne, between Burgaw and Wilmington.

“We are offering bus tours, leaving from the office here,” said Mark Seitz, Extension director in Pender County. “We will take people down to the research facility and have faculty members and researchers from NC State give the general public a taste of what goes on behind the scenes to get a blueberry plant from the plant breeding phase to production.”

Related: Picking blueberries for a good cause

The Extension center at 801 S. Walker Street in Burgaw is a satellite parking lot for the festival. Shuttle buses will take interested patrons from there on a 25-minute ride to the research station, where they can learn about plant breeding and variety development, improving fruit quality and nutrition, the history of blueberries in North Carolina, and harvesting and handling.

“We’ll get them down there for about an hour, and there’s still time for them to come back and buy funnel cakes and blueberries and blueberry ice cream and listen to the bands,” Seitz said. “Maybe we can send them home with a little better idea of how this all got started and how to grow blueberries.”

Take a Tour: The tours of the research farm are free, but registration is required

The station is located on 111 acres a few miles north of Wilmington. Researchers primarily work with blueberries, strawberries and muscadine grapes, testing new varieties for qualities such as taste, yield and disease resistance, helping North Carolina growers improve their crops.

“If we can get a couple of hundred people down there and teach them a little bit about what it takes to get these crops from the research phase to the market phase, it helps people see where their food is coming from,” Seitz said. “We’re three or four generations away from when the majority of us lived on farms. We’re losing that connection quickly. It’s a good teaching opportunity.”