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How Elizabeth Coleman White Turned Blueberries Into A Billion Dollar Industry


Elizabeth Coleman White must have really liked the taste of blueberries. Why else would she have dedicated so much time and energy into cultivating and marketing them? I mean, who would have known it would have gone on to start a billion dollar industry? Yeah…how did that happen? 

White was a New Jersey native (woot!) who grew up working on her parents’ cranberry farm. But she wondered if a similar berry, the blueberry to be exact, which had only been wild up until then, could be cultivated in a similar fashion.

“Determined to succeed, White enlisted the expertise of USDA botanist Frederick Coville, who at the time was doing work with blueberry breeding.  The pair successfully developed and marketed the first cultivated blueberry bush, planting the seeds for a billion-dollar industry,” writes the USDA blog. “Her innovation didn’t stop there — she helped start the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association, which found creative ways to market the cultivated blueberries.  She also put her cultivation knowledge to use cultivating holly trees and other plants.  Her tireless work helped New Jersey become one of the country’s top blueberry-producing states.”

Born in 1871, White was also the first woman to join the American Cranberry Association which now offers direct support to women in agriculture. The USDA writes, “Last year, through the SCBGP, we supported the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s partnership with Annie’s Project to encourage women to engage in specialty crop production.  Through this project, participants will receive financial training, create business plans, and learn risk management practices to help with the insurance and marketing of their farm and crops.”

White’s work proved useful not just in cultivating blueberries but in turn, their use in science. “White’s influence and passion for specialty crop cultivation continues today in two of the programs in the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.  Cultivated blueberries are one of the several commodities that are a part of our Research and Promotion Program, which uses research and marketing tools to help support agricultural industries.  In 2011, the Blueberry Council allocated over $800,000 of its own funds for research that focuses on the role of antioxidants in metabolism, brain function, cancer, obesity and other health issues.”

Unfortunately, White’s father did not allow her to inherit the business because she was a woman but her contributions went down in history, making her forever famous, and she was the first woman to receive the New Jersey Department of Agriculture citation.

(via USDA Blog)

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  • M Carlson

    Michigan represent (leader in highbush berry production!)

    mmmmm, blueberries.

  • Jessica H

    Having worked in the blueberry industry as a summer job, all I can say is wash your berries, especially the organic ones (they’re filthy). As great as they are, I’d rather have just the blueberry and not the dirt or deer dung.

  • http://sdhardie.tumblr.com Sheila

    We have 12 of our own bushes, 10 of which are currently producing. Yummy!

  • http://profiles.google.com/mkjonese Emma Jones

    This is really cool… but I hate blueberries. Much prefer blackberries (the best berry).

  • Anonymous

    Another tale of successful government intervention in the economy. Either that, or keep the government’s hands off the USDA.