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Record crowd comes to Stuart for peach festival
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Peaches sold by Woods Cold Storage line the entrance to the Virginia Peach Festival on Friday. A record crowd of an estimated 3,000 people came to Stuart for the event, which offered free admission for the first time in its history. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin staff writer

A record crowd of an estimated 3,000 people helped to make the annual Virginia Peach Festival in Stuart on Friday peachier than ever.

“It was everything I expected it to be and more,” said Tim Collins, director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce and an organizer of the festival.

Collins attributed the “people coming in droves” to the free admission — offered for the first time this year through a partnership with a number of sponsors.

“It was fantastic,” he said Saturday. “Everyone seemed to enjoy it.”

That was true for Tom and Janet Hunter, formerly of Martinsville but now in Blackstone, about 50 miles southwest of Richmond.

“We came for three days” to visit the area, Janet Hunter said. “We’ve been to Floyd and (the Chateau Morrisette Winery).”

Tom Hunter, who was the Henry and Patrick County forester for the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries during the 1960s, said he wanted to visit the area “just to see how much the country has changed.”

The couple’s new neighbor’s from the Richmond area also were visiting.

“It’s so interesting,” Janet Hunter said of the peach festival. The only downside was that there were fewer homemade “peachy goodies” than Hunter expected.

Homemade peach pie was available, as was homemade peach ice cream, and the Hunters said they planned to get some peaches to take back home with them and enjoy.

Vendors sold a variety of wares, everything from chocolate-flavored balsamic vinegar to bird houses, balloons, jewelry and T-shirts.

Locally produced wines — from Stanburn Winery and Preston Ridge Winery — also were available, with tastings scheduled regularly throughout the event.

Preston Ridge Winery also made a Peach Bellini, a type of slushie made with wine and peaches, according to Lauren Hall, who was helping serve guests.

“This is our second year attending” the festival, said owner Lawrence Penn. “We had a good event last year” and expected a better one this year, he added.

David Stanley, who along with his family operates Stanburn Winery, said Friday marked the third year of his participation.

“We’ll be doing tastings and selling by the glass, or people can buy a bottle of wine, open it and drink it here” or take the unopened bottle home with them to enjoy later, Stanley said.

Debbie and Ray Schillo of Danville manned the Deb’s Doll Dresses booth, while Martinsville-Henry County Tourism director Jennifer Doss and administrative assistant/film associate Beth Stinnett, manned a booth chock full of literature detailing attractions.

“We are sharing the word about Martinsville and Henry County,” Doss said. “We’ve already had a couple of out-of-town groups stop by.”

Doss said she talked to one group from Winston-Salem, N.C., and another family from Newport News.

“The family from Newport News had taken in every attraction in Martinsville,” Doss said she was happy to learn.

Although this was their first year setting up at the peach fest, Doss said it likely will not be the last. “We want to share Martinsville and Henry County with everyone.”

Three different orchards/farms were selling peaches, apples and other homegrown/homemade goodies.

John Wood and his son James offered yellow Freestone peaches for sale that were “locally grown in Woolwine,” he said. “We grow them and then sell them at our store,” Wood’s Cold Storage & Supply.

“It’s been a pretty good crop” this year, even with all the rain, Wood said. The crop “has turned out pretty good, and we expect to have a bumper crop of apples. The apples are looking good,” he said.

Apples will start being available around Sept. 1, Wood added.

Terri and Doug Wade, of Wade’s Orchard, had a little bit of everything, from peaches, to squash, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini — all freshly picked.

The wet weather this summer initially “hurt the size” of the peaches, Doug Wade said. But a few sunny days did the trick, and business “has been really good so far,” he said.

Doug Wade also expects “to have a bumper crop of apples this year. The apple crop is looking real good,” he said.

Debbe Noonkester, from Windy Hill Orchards, said the rain had hurt her peach crop this year. “Too much rain and too much rot,” she said.

But Noonkester managed to bring several different varieties to offer fest goers Friday, including the Georgia Bell (a sweet, white peach), Loring and Bounty, which she said is the best seller. Noonkester also had a few different varieties of apples.

That worked out well for Judy Hicks of Danville, who said she planned to pick up some peaches when she left the fest. But, she said, that wouldn’t be until later.

“I’ve got some friends coming from Ridgeway,” she said, and added the group planned to stay for much of the fest.

Karan Puckett, of Stuart, said she generally attends the fest, and “loves the fact that” she can walk to it from her home.

“Mostly, I like coming to the festival because I like seeing people and visiting (with people that) you don’t get to see often,” Puckett said. “The food” is another draw, as are the peaches, she said. “You’ve got to pick up some peaches,” Puckett added.

Barry Taylor, also of Stuart, said he has attended the peach fest off and on for years. He recalled that it was held at Via’s Orchard when it first began. “I like it here” at DeHart Park, he said. “It’s shadier.”

Craig “Rocky” Rockwell, manager of Philpott Lake, came to the event with his daughter, Bekah Rockwell.

“I found out about it, and I told him we were coming,” Bekah Rockwell said.

Rockwell said it didn’t take much for his daughter to convince him to attend the festival.

“I wanted to see and hear my buddy Les Moore,” he said of Moore, a jazz musician who was among the performers Friday.

Rockwell said there were so many events going on Saturday that he didn’t know which ones he would visit. “Saturday is conflicted,” he said chuckling. “Life in Virginia is busy.”


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