05/24/2024
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A staff report

Bladen County, North Carolina, boasts a rich agricultural legacy that continues to thrive in modern times. With over 180,000 acres of farmland, agriculture remains a cornerstone of the county’s economy and culture. Among the various crops cultivated in this fertile land, blueberries stand out as a star player, earning Bladen as one of the largest blueberry producer in the state.

According to Becky Spearman, the county director for the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Bladen’s diverse agricultural landscape encompasses crops like corn, soybeans, cotton, peanuts, and wheat. However, it’s the soil’s perfect conditions for blueberry cultivation that have truly set Bladen apart in the agricultural world.

Blueberry farming has become synonymous with Bladen County, drawing both locals and visitors alike to indulge in the sweet, juicy berries that flourish here. The temperate climate, coupled with nutrient-rich soil, creates an ideal environment for blueberry bushes to thrive, yielding bountiful harvests year after year.

Community and Connection Through Agriculture

Chuck Heustess, serving as Bladen County’s economic development director, sees agriculture as more than just a means of sustenance—it’s a fundamental way of life. He underscores the connection between the county’s economic prosperity and agricultural heritage, underscoring the vital role of farming families and their invaluable contributions to the fabric of the local community.

Dr. Amanda Lee, representing Bladen Community College, expresses enthusiasm for the agribusiness technology program offered by the institution. This program, centered on entrepreneurship, hands-on field training, economic principles, and governmental policies, stands as a beacon of innovation and opportunity for aspiring individuals in the agricultural sector.

Exciting developments are underway as plans are set to expand the reach of agriculture classes to the recently acquired Booker T. Washington School facility in Clarkton. This expansion signals a commitment to providing accessible education and training opportunities to students across the region, further enriching their knowledge and skills in the dynamic field of agriculture.

In celebration of Bladen’s blueberry bounty, we’ve curated three delightful recipes that showcase the versatility and deliciousness of this beloved berry:

1. Blueberry Lemonade

Ingredients:
– 1 cup fresh blueberries
– 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar
– 4 cups cold water
– Ice cubes
– Lemon slices and fresh blueberries for garnish

Instructions:
1. In a blender, combine the fresh blueberries, lemon juice, and granulated sugar. Blend until smooth.
2. Strain the blueberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove any pulp.
3. In a pitcher, combine the strained blueberry mixture with cold water. Stir well to combine.
4. Serve the blueberry lemonade over ice cubes, garnished with lemon slices and fresh blueberries. Enjoy the refreshing taste of summer in every sip!

2. Blueberry Spinach Salad

Ingredients:
– 4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
– 1 cup fresh blueberries
– 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
– 1/4 cup sliced almonds
– 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
– Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
1. In a large salad bowl, combine the baby spinach leaves, fresh blueberries, crumbled feta cheese, and sliced almonds.
2. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the salad ingredients.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Toss the salad gently to coat everything evenly with the balsamic glaze.
5. Serve immediately as a refreshing and nutritious side dish or light meal.

3. Blueberry Crumble Bars

Ingredients:
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 1 cup brown sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
– 2 cups fresh blueberries
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar
– 2 tablespoons lemon juice
– 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Instructions:
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.
3. Add the chilled and cubed unsalted butter to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
4. Press half of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking pan to form the base layer.
5. In another bowl, combine the fresh blueberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Mix until the blueberries are evenly coated.
6. Spread the blueberry mixture over the crumb base layer in the baking pan.
7. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture evenly over the top of the blueberry layer.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the crumble topping is golden brown.
9. Allow the blueberry crumble bars to cool completely before cutting into squares and serving. Enjoy the perfect balance of sweet, tangy blueberries and buttery crumble in every bite!
As you savor these delectable blueberry creations, take a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication of Bladen County’s farming community. From field to fork, their passion for agriculture shines through, enriching palates and communities.

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