Celebrate blueberries in Ellenville & sunflowers in Gardiner

This year’s 17th annual Blueberry Festival in Ellenville will be held on Saturday, August 13, rain or shine.  (Julie O'Connor | Almanac Weekly)

This year’s 17th annual Blueberry Festival in Ellenville will be held on Saturday, August 13, rain or shine. (Julie O’Connor | Almanac Weekly)

Blueberry Festival in Ellenville

It was Native Americans who first cultivated the wild blueberry on the mountaintops of the Shawangunks near Ellenville, unwittingly creating a future industry for the region. Communities of berry-pickers began forming on the Ridge in the early 18th century, surviving by foraging the blueberries that throve on the land now belonging to Minnewaska State Park and the Sam’s Point Preserve. A good picker, it was said, could collect as many as 35 quarts of berries a day, which would then be sold to the local general store or shipped off to Catskill resorts and New York City.

The pickers arrived every July, building tarpaper squatter shacks and working through the blueberry season. By 1920, blueberry-picking camps were inhabited by pickers who worked all day and then got together at night for fellowship, telling stories, making music and maybe having a drink or two. Some of the camps were rowdier than others.

It all ended after World War II, when the advent of commercial blueberry farming made the fruit easily accessible and affordable. With no demand for wild blueberries by the end of the 1950s, the last of the berry-pickers packed up and left town.

Remnants of the berry-pickers’ shacks still remain in the Sam’s Point Preserve along Old Smiley Road, paying silent testimony to the long-ago industry of the men and women who slept in the humble abodes by night in order to pick blueberries by day. One has to wonder what the last residents of those shanties would think if they knew about the annual Blueberry Festival now held every August in Ellenville, devoted to the berry that was – literally – the fruit of their labors.

This year’s 17th annual Blueberry Festival, sponsored as always by the Ellenville/Wawarsing Chamber of Commerce, will be held on Saturday, August 13, rain or shine. The festivities begin early with a blueberry pancake breakfast served up by Pioneer Engine Company #1 from 7:30 to 11 a.m. at Norbury Hall on Center Street. The breakfast is a fundraiser for the fire department, and costs $7 for adults.

The exhibits and street fair begin at 9 a.m., with free admission. More than 175 vendors have signed on to bring handmade items and all manner of craftwork, clothing, jewelry, accessories and edibles for festivalgoers to peruse and purchase. By the time the festival ends at 4 p.m., more than 10,000 visitors are expected to attend. The event is billed as the largest one-day event in southwestern Ulster County.

Cohen’s Bakery of Ellenville will sell hundreds of blueberry pies at the festival, made with local blueberries as a fundraiser for the Chamber, to ensure that the yearly tradition continues. Official Blueberry Festival tee-shirts available for purchase will do the same.

Live music all day in Liberty Square will be provided by the Evergreen Chorus, Side F/X and the Carl Richards Band. There will be children’s entertainment, of course – face-painting, interactive inflatables and games – raffles, exhibits on the cultural heritage of the Shawangunk Ridge and, of course, a bonanza of blueberry baked goods and other edibles, blue or not.

The homemade blueberry pie-judging contest will announce the winner shortly after noon, when the judges begin the tasting to make their decision. Entries are due by 11 a.m. at the Pie Tent by the Hunt Memorial Building stage in Liberty Square. There is no fee to enter.

Organizers request that visitors (and vendors, for that matter) leave pets at home. Off-street parking is free; just follow the “Festival Parking” signs.

– Sharyn Flanagan

Blueberry Festival, Saturday, August 13, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., free, Canal Street/Liberty Square, Ellenville; (845) 647-4620, www.ewcoc.com.


sunflowers-@Gardiner hosts Sunflower Art Festival this Saturday

If you build it in a beautiful field by the Shawangunk Kill, they will come in droves to enjoy the annual Sunflower Art Festival this Saturday, August 13 – which is the dream that festival director Liz Glover Wilson is counting on. A longtime event producer and the founder of Sunflower Art Studios, she has invited local artists to join forces in a large-scale live art installation called Flowerworks, to be accomplished on the grounds of the Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery in Gardiner. Led by street artist Lady Pink, the “First Lady of Graffiti” active in the early 1980s subway graffiti subculture, participants including Jean Tansey, Liz Glover Wilson, Annie O’Neill and Keith Buesing as featured exhibitors, with MaryLou Sano, Tracy Henry, Kristin Miller, Elizabeth O’Leary and others, will cover 50 blank canvases into an explosion of color and creativity.

“After a truly remarkable first year, I am blown away by the tremendous community support for the upcoming festival,” says Wilson. “It is going to be an amazing day filled with music, art and a special focus on kids – all in line with our mission to bring love, laughter and art to our community!” The family-friendly event – free to all comers, including parking – will offer music by local favorites such as Woodstock’s own Connor Kennedy; the creators of the Hoot, the Mike + Ruthy Band; jazz vocalist Lindsey Webster and her Band; Mad Satta, the Innis Band, the Acoustic Mandala Project, Heritage Op, In the Kitchen, David Kraai & Amy Laber, Luck & Senses, the Other Brothers and Shlomo Franklin & Co. And in the Jam Tent, it’ll be swing and square dancing with the Shoe String Band and Swing Shift Orchestra. That’s 15 bands on two stages for ten hours, folks. Bring your blanket and lawn chair, and plan to be entertained.

At the Farm and Craft Marketplace, peruse the offerings from Birdhouse Brokerage, Birchborne Organics, Crown Maple, Casa del Cacciovallo Farms, Flowered Farms, Pam and Craig Booth, New Prospect Pottery, Jean Tansey Art, GOST Artists, Groovy Chick Jewelry, Horseshoe Brand, Hudson Valley Cold-Press Oils, JSky Dyes, Jeneric Bags, Nicole Jurain Pottery, Sunflower Art Festival Merchandise, LulaRoe, Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery Retail, Sun Power by New York State Solar Farm and more.

Barbecue and food for sale will be provided by Tuthill House at the Mill, El Danzante on Wheels, Willy’s Wieners Plus, the Yum Yum Noodle Truck, Zen Blend, the Village Market & Eatery, Lakeside Licks, Kupcake Kouture and others. The Beer, Wine and Spirits Garden will feature libations from Tuthilltown Spirits, the Warwick Valley Winery, 2Way Brewery, North River Hops and Brewing, the Roscoe Beer Company, the Christopher Jacobs Winery and Whitecliff Winery.

Start the day at 10 a.m. with free morning community yoga by Vitality Yoga, to be accompanied by the Acoustic Mandala Project. Aikido of New Paltz will also be on-site doing free lessons and exhibits. For children, a playful plethora of kids’ activities will include arts and crafts in the Esther’s Kids Art Tent, where they’ll be offered free healthy snacks and can participate in a “Kids’ Jam Hour” from 10 to 11 a.m., to play and explore real instruments with qualified teachers and facilitators. Esther was Wilson’s sister: a police officer who died a couple of years ago, and to whom this year’s event is dedicated. The protection of our youngest citizens was her fervent mission.

Since the best things in life are free, the Sunflower Art Festival is free of charge for all artists, families and visitors through the generous support of local businesses. Proceeds from the festival’s fabulous raffle will benefit local children’s hospitals and medical centers. Guests who make a $10 donation or greater will receive a complimentary commemorative gift. Sunflower Art Studios is a local non-profit arts organization, committed to promoting visibility of the arts in the mid-Hudson Valley by collaborating with local artisans and creating experiences for the community, such as art classes for children and adults – and fun times like this one. Don’t miss it.

– Ann Hutton

Sunflower Art Festival, Saturday, August 13, 10 a.m.-dusk, free/$10 suggested donation, Tuthilltown Distillery, 20 Grist Mill Lane, Gardiner; (845) 419-5219, www.sunflowerartfestival.com.

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