Peaches remain center of fest

By Cory L. Higgs

The sky cleared and peaches reigned at the 32nd annual Virginia State Peach Festival held Fridayat DeHart Park in Stuart.

The rain “poured here just a few minutes ago. We haven’t even got our banner up yet,” said Debbe Noonkester, of Windy Hill Orchards in Ararat.

Noonkester was among peach vendors at the fest, along with Wade’s Orchard and Dawson’s Orchard. In addition to the fruit itself, some also offered jams, jellies and other goodies for sale.

About 20 vendors participated – some with wares for sale and others offering information.

For instance, Clyde DeLoach, who is running for the Blue Ridge seat on the board of supervisors, manned a booth to hear concerns and respond to questions from voters.

The festival began in 1988 to recognize and promote the peach harvest in Patrick County. It also took on a more political role, with politicians flocking to the county to campaign and enjoy the peach harvest.

Besides DeLoach, there were no other local or state politicians, and at least one festival patron noticed that the festival has evolved over its 32-year life.

Its transition from the traditional ‘peaches and politics’ has become ‘peaches and community,’ Sherri Cassady said, adding that the fest has “changed into something that’s more fun, relaxed and community-oriented, but it’s still about the peaches.”

Noting that Rebecca Adcock, executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce worked with state level tourism boards and others to acquire “Patrick County Is for Peach Lovers” logo, Patrick County Tourism Director Sandra Belcher noted the event is the state peach festival.

The logo helps to reinforce the change from a political event to a festival for community and fun and showcases the county’s more intimate and fun-loving side, as festival patrons also enjoyed peach pit spitting and cobbler eating contests.

The chamber organizes the peach festival that was part of Patrick County’s weekend of “Peaches and Pickin.” Other weekend events included the Meadows of Dan Folk Fair. (See related story)