The short, storied history of blueberries in America
Elizabeth White, the daughter of a New Jersey cranberry farmer, and USDA botanist Fredrick Coville are credited with being the ones to first tame wild blueberries.
According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, White had taken a great interest in the benefits of adding blueberries to the family crop in 1893 although at the time it was believed the wild berries could not be domesticated. In 1908, about 15 years after White’s interest had begun, Coville became determined to cultivate blueberries and sought superior wild plants to crossbreed with.
In 1911, a partnership was formed between White and Coville. White read Coville’s Experiments in Blueberries and invited him to her family’s farm to partner on experiments. The pair began to crossbreed selected bushes to create new blueberry varieties and by 1916, they harvested and sold blueberries for the first first time.
The berries were a smashing success as “blueberry fever” swept the East Coast a year later.
“Since the day the first crop of highbush blueberries traveled from farm to table, these little blue dynamos have been helping people lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. It’s a legacy 100 years in the making,” the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council says on its website.
In 1932, Elizabeth White was honored for her outstanding contributions to agriculture by the State of New Jersey.
Less than 30 years after the sweet and plump fruit began being sold commercially, it started to become commonplace in the American diet.
Beginning in the 1940s, seedlings started to spread across 13 states and more than 200,000 seedlings were planted between 1942 and 1962.
That has since spread even further, blueberries are currently grown in 38 states although California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington make up 98 percent of the U.S. commercial production. Because of increasing demand, about half of all blueberries are now sent fresh to market.
In 1974, blueberries finally got a month of their own when July was proclaimed National Blueberry Month. July was fittingly selected because it is in the heart of peak blueberry season in North America, which runs from mid-June until mid-August.
Blueberries are now a mainstay all over the world. As of 2014, five continents produced more than 1 billion pounds of blueberries. The U.S. itself now produces around 600 million pounds annually.