Saturday rained black and blueberries

Published 11:03 pm Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lines of people with baskets filled to the brim with glistening blackberries and blueberries waited under tents and on porches to buy their finds or to wait out the rain.

Even rain could not keep people away from the eighth annual Black and Blue Berry Festival in Jemison on Saturday. Berry lovers from all over the state enjoyed live music, food and the lush, green surroundings dripping with raindrops at Petals from the Past.

Shelley Powell, who co-owns the store with her husband, Jason, said festivals are important for area children.

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“Agriculture is really important in Chilton County,” she said. “This festival shows the kids where food comes from, which they often don’t know.”

The festival honored the small berries from the food down to the music. Hungry crowds sampled seven desserts from Southern Sweets, Montevallo, and weary pickers sat on benches to listen to 11 of the Powells’ friends performing in a yet to be named band.

Despite the rain, people took the chance to pick blackberries and blueberries. Kate Piper drove three hours from Ozark to bring her family to the festival.

“We are vigilant pickers and we picked in the rain, but we’re enjoying it with the rain or not,” she said. “I bring my family each year.”

Helena resident Alyssa Sutton carefully selected blackberries to place into her pint. The 8-year-old has picked from Petals from the Past’s fields before.

“This is my second time here,” she said while she examined a blackberry. “I’ve picked at other places too.”

For festivalgoers that felt inundated by the berry picking, there was a lot more to take in. Petals from the Past also had plenty of the specialty plants — antique roses, heirloom shrubs and hard-to-find perennial flowers and herbs — on hand.

Shalon Lowery came from Hoover to take part in the festival. She was able to pick blueberries and find plants that she could not find from other nurseries in the state.

“They have plants here that no one else has,” she said. “I bring coworkers and it’s just fun.”

For other customers, Saturday’s trip to the store was a regular occurrence. Ed Russell, who is from Elmore County, made his second trip in a month to buy a red twig willow.

“They just have different plants and old plants,” he said. “I haven’t seen this red willow anywhere else.”

The idea for the festival came to Jason and Shelley Powell eight years ago. They wanted to bring attention to the berries and the time period when blackberry and blueberry seasons are in full swing at the same time.

“We thought, ‘What better way can you celebrate blueberries and blackberries than with a festival?’” Jason Powell said. “The festival always occurs in the overlapping season for the two fruits — mid-June.”

Jason’s father, Dr. Arlie Powell, retired seven years ago from Auburn University as the school’s fruit specialist. He spoke to groups Saturday about the planting and maintaining of blackberries and blueberries. Jason Powell said his dad is the reason they began growing black and blueberries, figs and persimmons.

“These are some of the easiest things to grow in Southern gardens,” Jason Powell said. “Sometimes people are hesitant to grow things because they don’t know how or what to do with it when it is time to harvest. This festival shows people how to grow black and blueberries, what can be done with them and how to enjoy it.”

Several people took the challenge of growing not only blackberries and blueberries, but also several other plants. The plant pick-up area was a hotbed of activity throughout the day.

But families were the common denominator for the festival. Nearly every festivalgoer had a child or parent in tow, which is what the day was designed to be about.

“The thing we love about the festival is every year, there has been more and more families coming out,” Powell said. “They’ll come from out of town just for the festival. When we started the festival, we wanted to create an environment where moms and dads can take their children and have a great day learning about black and blueberries. And that’s what it is. Even though the rain came, people braved the elements.”