ISLAND GROVE, Fla. — Sliding a birdshot round into his Remington 1100 shotgun, Kinnis Thomas takes aim at one of several small, paper targets about 30 yards into a wooded clearing.
The 69-year-old pauses for a moment and then peppers the target in one loud bang, hoping to be closer to the bull’s-eye than a handful of other contenders and win a delicious prize — a rack of ribs.
At the Island Grove Blueberry Festival, which took place Saturday in southeast Alachua County, the turkey shoot has been around for many years.
Although it’s certainly one of the highlights of the event, attendees also enjoyed picking blueberries and shopping for mom-and-pop knickknacks throughout the venue. About $10,000 of the event’s proceeds went to support the Cross Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
With smoke blowing from his shotgun barrel, Thomas places his gun on a table and grabs a Diet Pepsi and a chair to eye his competition.
“I could hear ‘em gobble that time,” he said, hoping for a strike.
His first name is John, but people call him by his middle name, Kinnis.
Living near Island Grove since he was born, Thomas said over the years he has seen the already small town get smaller as farmers moved out of the area.
But one of the things that hasn’t changed is the turkey shoot, which already won him a rack of ribs. He keeps his winning target folded inside his shirt pocket for safekeeping. Traditionally, winners received vouchers for a free turkey at the local grocery store, but since the holidays aren’t upcoming, the prize is the slab of pork.
“They call it a blueberry festival for the lack of calling it something better,” he said, laughing.
Some women temporarily left their husbands to go shopping through the flea-market cluster while the men made their way to the gunfire in the distance.
One man in particular, 83-year-old Donald Faircloth, said he doesn’t remember how many times he’s been to the blueberry festival but hints that it’s a lot. He’s been in the Gainesville area since before 43rd Street and 34th Street were even built, a project he had a hand in.
“We built the first stretch of 34th Street from Archer Road to Northwest 16th Avenue,” said Faircloth, who worked for a construction company in 1958. “That’s as far as it went.”
Some years earlier, he was a prospective UF student, but before he could start class, he was swept into service by the U.S. government to fight in the Korean War.
“Uncle Sam needed my services before I even got started,” he said.
He served for 10 months before returning home.
“They shot real bullets at you there,” he said.
Although some festival-goers like Faircloth have been coming to the Island Grove Blueberry Festival for many years, several first-timers came for a taste of Florida’s blueberry heritage.
Self-proclaimed Wizard of Odd, Joe DiVito, brought homemade hot sauces that go from “mild to wild.” He gave out free samples of his sauces to spread the word about his LaCrosse-based business.
“So far today we’ve only killed seven people,” DiVito said, joking. “I use lucid dreaming to come up with my recipes.”
Alachua County’s Aunt Zelma’s Blueberries and 301 Blueberries both provided more than 150 cases of berries for the event at discounted prices.
Everything from fresh blueberry ice cream to blueberry goat cheese candy was served to children and families at the festival.
And for those who aren’t tired of the violet-hued berries, “U-Pick” blueberry picking will take place for another two weeks at both farms.
[A version of this story ran on page 9 on 5/20/2014 under the headline "Blueberry festival keeps Alachua traditions"]
Julia Goodrich, 4, inspects a freshly picked blueberry at the 301 Blueberry Farm during its annual Blueberry Festival Saturday morning. Her mother, Meredith Goodrich, 39, said it’s nice to be able to listen to live music while picking blueberries.