35th Red, White & Blueberry Festival
HAMMONTON—After a year-long postponement in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce will host the 35th annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival on June 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hammonton High School, located at 566 Old Forks Rd.
“Our biggest concern—and the reason we canceled last year—was because of the health issues and the pandemic restrictions that were in place. This year, when the group came together, we wanted to be as safe as possible for everybody. We were following all the state guidelines, but things like this take months in advance to plan out. When we saw the trend that more and more things were opening, we felt comfortable hosting it,” said Benjamin Ott, the Chamber’s president.
John Runfolo, the Chamber’s executive director, explained further.
“In March, I had a meeting with my committee, which is 14 or 15 of the best people I know. They’re successful business people—and busy people—and, if you want something done, you ask busy people, because they know how to do it. It started with, we want to have this festival ... We said, we’re going to do it because we know we can do it, and we want to do it because we think it’s good for the town, we think it’s good for the area and it’s what we do. We generate traffic into town. We try to keep the businesses alive,” Runfolo said.
Runfolo said that the decision to carry on with the festival was unanimous, as was the decision to cancel the festival in 2020.
“It was agonizing, but we got the word from everybody, and it was unanimous that we just couldn’t have the festival. We knew no one was going to come—whether or not it was even legal to have ... The converse of that is that, this year, everyone said that we should do it. Things were opening up a little bit, and we knew we had land all over the place. We could spread out the crafters. We could spread out the food people. We have a band. We have 40 tables, so we’ll put some tables under the tent and put some outside with umbrellas,” Runfolo said.
Ott said that the decision was an important one, particularly for Chamber members “who have been doing it for decades.”
“I can’t tell you how much this means to them. We’re going on 35 years, and to have last year shut down? You don’t do something for 34 years and then just not do it one year and not feel some pain of regret. This means a lot to them,” Ott said.
Runfolo said that one of the challenges in planning the festival has been in adapting to mandate changes.
“The logistical changes have been a challenge, but that happens in life ... In March, we were very tentative. I talked with the health department many times, and, at that point, they said to make sure we had distancing, gloves and masks, and to sanitize every table after it’s used; that’s a must. Now, they said it’s pretty wide open. People should probably still be wearing masks, but if it’s an outdoor event, we’re probably OK with minimal distancing. Things have opened up, and mandates have been changed, so we’re abiding by that,” Runfolo said.
Runfolo said that the event will be pared down somewhat from previous years.
“Instead of having 60 crafters, we’re going to try to keep it to 45 or 50. The food vendors, instead of doing 25 we’re probably going to do 20. We started to chop it up anyway because of the pandemic, because we didn’t know how many spaces we could allot,” Runfolo said.
Ott expanded on Runfolo’s statement.
“We’ve even altered a lot of the things that we’re going to sell, making it a cleaner transaction so there’s not as much contact with people ... there’s been some changes to the layout to give us more space between food vendors and crafters. All these kinds of preparations went into it. We even reoriented the stage, so that we can spread out the picnic tables better and allow for wipe-downs between patrons. A lot of planning has gone into it,” Ott said.
Runfolo said that another factor in reducing the size of the festival is one of necessity: part of the land at the high school that the festival used to occupy is now being used as a staging area for the solar panel arrays that are due to be installed at the school.
“That necessarily is going to chop us down, but the ambience is going to stay the same,” Runfolo said.
Ott concurred with Runfolo.
“It’s going to be largely the same, just safer with better distance between everybody. We got rid of the rides, because there’s a lot of touching and germ-spreading. But, there’s still the classic car show, and still the blueberry—in all its glory,” Ott said.
As for the blueberries, John Garrison—a member of the Chamber’s executive committee—is the self-described “guy that goes around and gets the blueberries from the different farmers and brings them to the festival for sale by the Chamber.”
“We have six different farmers that donate blueberries every year so that we can sell them at the festival and help the chamber out financially. What I do in the morning is I go around with a refrigerated truck and go to these different farms. I pick up pallets of blueberries, then get back to the festival from that. We start unloading from there. As the day goes on, we pull more and more berries out of the truck, where we keep them cool all day,” Garrison said.
Garrison said that, typically, the Chamber receives eight pallets, totaling 1,152 crates—or 13,284 pints—of fresh-packed blueberries.
“We usually sell out every year,” Garrison said.
The price for this year’s crop, Garrison said, is yet to be determined.
“We have to see what the market’s doing. We talk to the farmers, and they suggest what we should sell them for,” Garrison said.
Ott said that the traditional date of the weekend before July 4 is critical to the festival’s success.
“It’s not one of those events we can move around, because it is to highlight the blueberry, and they’re only in season at a certain time of year,” Ott said.
Runfolo said that, despite some of the logistical changes, the festival’s “basic entity will be the same.”
“We’re going to have lots of food, lots of crafters, great music, a DJ, a lot of fun, free parking—and it’s free. You don’t have to spend a dollar to come to the festival—but I challenge you not to spend any money once you smell the food,” Runfolo said.
Runfolo likened the ambience of the festival to “a typical Italian day.
“There’s a little music, a little tarantella, you converse with your friends, you have a little something to eat, you sit down, you see a couple of cars, you have something more to eat, do another tarantella, you meet Aunt Mary and she says you look good,” Runfolo said.
Ott noted that the Red, White & Blueberry Festival will have “a lot of food, crafters and music.”
“We’re really excited to bring it back and continue the family tradition,” Ott said.
Runfolo agreed with Ott.
“We’re trying to keep the essence and the ambience and the character of the festival, with the music, food, the cars and—of course—the star of the show, which is the blueberry,” Runfolo said.