Hundreds of blueberry plants surround the Arc of the Emerald Coast’s facilities in Milton, so the nonprofit puts them to use.
The organization will host its eighth annual Blueberry Bash, a festival concentrated on picking and purchasing fresh blueberries. The country-style festival will also feature live music, arts and crafts, children’s activities, food and shopping vendors, a 5K run and a classic car show.
Donna Tashik, community development coordinator of the Arc of the Emerald Coast, said it’s the organization’s largest fundraiser in Santa Rosa County.
The Arc of the Emerald Coast currently serves 82 families with developmental or intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, Tashik said. It offers adult training services, early intervention for ages zero to 3, supported employment and supported living.
“The Blueberry Bash is very important,” Tashik said. “It’s the only one you go to, and every penny you spend there goes to a good cause rather than someone making money.”
The Blueberry Bash is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at The Arc of the Emerald Coast Santa Rosa, 6225 Dixie Road, Milton. Admission is free.
Blueberries are $2 per pound if you pick them and $4 per pound pre-picked. Blueberry plants are $6 each.
The 5K race starts at 7 a.m. with registration at 6 a.m. Runners and walkers can register early online for $30 at ImAthlete.com. Registration includes a T-shirt and a free beer or water.
The Arc of the Emerald Coast clients care for the blueberry plants year-round, Tashik said, but they enjoy the catharsis.
“It is so peaceful out there,” Tashik said. “You kind of forget that you’re near the city, and right across the bridge is Pensacola.”
This year’s Blueberry Bash is particularly exciting, because the Arc of the Emerald Coast officially owns the property where it hosts the festival, Tashik said. The organization has also received money to add more power poles to the property, allowing more vendors than in the past.
“The Blueberry Bash is a celebration this year,” Tashik said.
Children will have plenty of options at the festival, including jumping in bounce houses, another advantage of the new power poles.
“We do old-timey children’s games,” Tashik said. “I’m talking the fishing pole over the board that’s painted like the ocean.”
Home Depot will also set up a tent, in which children can build something, she said.
Some of the artisan and food vendors will include Initial Outfitters Jewelry, Too Kool Threadz, Pig Naughty Sauces, Jewelry by Toni K, Jennifer Cook fused glass jewelry, Ruth’s Seafood, Handwoven by Design and many more.
One of the highlights is a bake sale, featuring baked goods made from pre-picked blueberries, Tashik said. The food items are donated from the Transformers, a group of women affiliated with Gulf Power.
“They bring it all to us the morning of the bash, and we sell it,” Tashik said. “So that’s really cool. These women are amazing; the whole company is amazing.”
The Blueberry Bash wouldn’t happen without its team of volunteers, Tashik said. This includes volunteers from Naval Air Station Whiting Field, the Milton High School football team and students in its leadership classes.
Tashik fondly remembers seeing the football team arrive at last year's festival.
“They come pulling up on a school bus, and they were all in their black uniforms,” Tashik said. “The whole team got out and marched off to go to work. It’s definitely a community event.”
Although the bash invites locals, it also welcomes tourists, Tashik said.
“If you’re on vacation, you’ve been paying a lot of high prices for things for your family to do,” Tashik said. “This isn’t going to do that.”
Tashik finds it amazing how this beautiful area of country living exists so close to the beach.
“It’s a lovely, healthy, simple day in the country,” Tashik said. “You’re going to leave calm and relaxed and have some wonderful blueberries. There still are some small, simple festivals going on.”