Walton farm a finalist in UGA’s Flavor of Georgia food product contest

By Tom Spigolon - The covington News

Merlon Harper and husband, Joe, operate Deer Creek Farm in south Walton County. Their Blue Harvest Tea product was selected to compete Tuesday, March 28, in the Beverage category of the finals of the annual Flavor of Georgia contest at The Classic Center in Athens. Contributed photo

A Covington-area blueberry farm’s beverage product was among 36 selected for the final round of competition in an annual contest spotlighting Georgia-grown food products.

Deer Creek Farm saw its Blue Harvest Tea product selected to compete Tuesday, March 28, in the Beverage category of the finals of the annual Flavor of Georgia contest at The Classic Center in Athens. Judges tasted 124 products entered by 82 Georgia businesses in the first round of the contest March 10. Those entering the event were all based in Georgia and competed among 12 categories. Blue Harvest Tea earned the right to compete in the finals against Ginger Beer created by Yardie Beverages of Suwanee; and a product called “Energize Original” by HIBO of Bishop.

Deer Creek Farm has operated since 2007 on County Line Road in Covington. It is a farm operation that allows the public to pick their own blueberries. Though blueberries are its specialty, it has expanded over the years to include muscadines, figs and a variety of garden vegetables, according to its website. Merlon Harper, who owns and operates the farm with husband Joe, said she is excited to be a finalist in the contest.

“It feels really good to have our Blue Harvest Tea recognized and spotlighted,” she said. “We married the flavors of two of Georgia’s favorites — blue-berries and tea. The flavors will remind of a summer day, sippin’ tea on the front porch, enjoying a simple moment in time,” she said.

Finalists in the competition — hosted by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — face a full day of judging and networking March 28 with other finalists, including a “Shark Tank” style panel of judges to pitch their products, according to a UGA news release.

Manpreet Singh, head of the UGA Department of Food Science and Technology, said the Flavor of Georgia contest “is a unique opportunity for the Department of Food Science and Technology to engage with food entrepreneurs from around the state of Georgia.”

“The contest serves as a resource to assist the local food industry with product development and prepares entrepreneurs to have their products market-ready,” Singh said.

For the first time, the award ceremony and reception will be open to the public, the release stated.

“Attendees will get to sample the cream of the crop from the competition before the winners from each category and the overall contest winner is announced.”

The 16-year-old competition has acted as a launching pad for small businesses and as many as 1,650 products around the state since it began back in 2007.

Isa Gutierrez, program coordinator for the Department of Food Science and Technology Extension office, also plans the yearly event.

“It’s really good to connect with all these small businesses and see the innovation of some of these people,” Gutierrez said.

Submitted food products are judged on flavor, texture and ingredient profile. Judges also consider marketability, how the product appeals to the consumer and how well the product represents Georgia, she said. She referred to the experience of a company that captured first place in the Jams and Jellies category at the 2022 finals.

“There was a company that made strawberry lemonade marmalade at last year’s competition called We Bee Jammin’ — now known as Christie B’s Jams and Jellies,” Gutierrez said. “It was so fun to watch people come up and say, ‘Whoa, how did you think of this?’ … It’s great to see how these businesses bloom after the competition.”

•To register to attend the reception and award ceremony and learn more about the competition, visit the Flavor of Georgia website at flavorofgeorgia.caes.uga.edu.

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