Everything's coming up peaches in Leitersburg
Western Maryland has always been a big fruit producing area, Scott Horning said.
The suitable growing conditions of the region yield an array of crops, not the least of which is peaches. In the Washington County area, several orchards produce the tree-ripened fruit, which is eaten on its own as well as in desserts, ice cream, jams and jellies.
So for 40 years, the Leitersburg Ruritan Club has centered an event around peaches with the Leitersburg Ruritan Peach Festival. This year’s event will be Saturday, Aug. 10, and Sunday, Aug. 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at the Leitersburg Ruritan Club in Leitersburg. Admission is free and there will be free shuttle rides from parking lots. Pets will not be admitted.
“We’ve been doing this for quite a while,” said Horning, who is treasurer of the Leitersburg Ruritan Club and a coordinator of the peach festival. “It’s a pretty nice shot in the arm for a lot of other organizations.”
Among those organizations are the Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co., St. Paul’s Evangelical Free Lutheran Church, the orchards and around 130 participating vendors including woodworkers, jewelry makers, potters and metal smiths.
Horning, 50, of Smithsburg, became involved with the peach festival many years ago when his sons were members of Boy Scout Troop 108. The Leitersburg Ruritan Club sponsors the troop, he said, and the Boy Scouts have helped with parking and other duties at the event for more than 15 years.
“Both of my boys are grown now,” Horning said, “so my wife and I joined the Ruritan because we saw all the worthwhile projects it supported.”
The festival will open Saturday morning with singing of the national anthem and a color guard presentation. There will be a climbing wall, petting zoo, pony rides, barrel train, chainsaw carving, blacksmith demonstrations and other free entertainment for families. Prophets of the Abstract Truth, The Tonehounds, The Brahman Noodles, Rob Rowe and others will provide live music.
The Peach Festival 5k Race will be Sunday at 8 a.m., with a course leading runners and walkers through the rolling hills of local orchards along both roads and trails. Cost is $20.
Other highlights will be the Peach Princess naming and a peach pie contest.
Each year at the festival, the Ruritan sells around 1,500 pounds of hand-cut french fries and sausage sandwiches, Horning said, and the Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co. pedals pit beef sandwiches.
“The food is very popular for the reasonable prices,” he said. “Many times you go to a fair and it’s pretty expensive to feed a family. We really try to keep the costs down.”
The festival sells out of vendor space each year.
“We added a few spaces because so many people wanted in,” Horning said. “We don’t want to get too big and start duplicating vendors. It’s a nice size, but not too overwhelming. People can shop for a couple of hours and see everything.”
As for the star of the show — the peaches — they are locally grown at Ivy Hill Farm and Barr Orchard, and sold by the peck or by the bushel.
“A lot of people come and buy bags of fresh peaches,” Horning said. “We bring in tractor loads of peaches. Thousands and thousands of them will go through here.”
Peach ice cream is made by a creamery in Waynesboro, Pa. Sanders’ Cookie Jar Bakery in Hagerstown makes peach pies, and members of St. Paul’s Evangelical Free Lutheran Church in Leitersburg make peach cobbler.
Horner said nearly 10,000 people visit the festival over the course of two days. Proceeds from the event are in the “tens of thousands,” he said, and go toward $3,000 annually in scholarships to area high school students; maintenance of the 13-acre Leitersburg Ruritan Community Park with pavilion, playground, volleyball and basketball courts; sponsorships of youth sports teams and scouting troops; local people in need and more.
“We are in the process now of getting ready to build a community center,” he said. “It’s going to be a 12,000 square-foot building with a full gymnasium, meeting rooms and a kitchen.”
The club is currently in the process of getting building permits and plans to break ground within the next year.
“It’s exciting for us to be moving along,” he said. “We need more money still. We are not quite done fundraising but we are getting there.”
The club keeps the attractions of the festival that work while adding features to keep it fresh and interesting.
“It’s a family atmosphere with free admission, free parking. People can just come out, do some shopping, enjoy a meal and dessert and enjoy the day.”