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August And Peaches: A Church/Community Tradition

Service clubs and first responders offer educational element.

Last Saturday Wesley United Methodist Church provided a fun filled summer day for more than 500 area residents with games, entertainment, charcoal grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and, most of all, a wide range of fresh peach deserts. With the theme of "The Community Coming Together in Unity, Fun and Friendship," the church staged its Seventh Annual Peach Festival. And it was, as always, all free.

"It's been a very good turnout, and the weather has certainly helped. Thank goodness we didn't have to deal with last Wednesday's 102 degree heat wave," said Church Pastor Tony Forstall.

"There is no charge for the Peach Festival because it is freely given as part of our connection to our community. At every turn today, economics impacts our lives. We want those visiting the festival to be free from economic decisions and impact for one day -- to just enjoy an old fashioned community gathering," Forstall said.

Each August, the church, located at 8412 Richmond Ave. in Mount Vernon District, turns its side lawn area into a community-wide summer picnic with performances by various groups, music by such organizations as the Capital Harmonica Club and The Peach Cobblers, dance presentations by Studio Gold Dance, karate demonstrations, and even special music and singing by Forstall. Children can participate in a wide variety of games and have their faces painted.

One of the highlights each year is the model train display set up in Fellowship Hall by Crescent Model Railroaders, an informal group of model railroad enthusiasts whose membership comes from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. "We are a small but very dedicated group," said Ted Rabusseau, club member who also serves as assistant scout master at the church.

This year the club added a new feature to the four track, 027 gauge train display that fascinated children and adults alike. It was a miniature carnival at one end of the display that featured an operating roller coaster and carousel.

Joining with Crescent, for their first appearance at the festival, was the Washington Metropolitan Area Lego Train Club. Occupying the stage area of Fellowship Hall was an entire layout, including operating trains, composed entirely of Legos.

"This is a hobby we've all enjoyed for years. Ten of us got together to create this display for the Festival," said Michael Harrod, a six-year club member from Alexandria. Lego model railroading is a growing hobby. The draw is that both layouts and trains can be altered depending on the owner's wishes.

"The games and face painting seem to be drawing more interest this year. The big challenge is always making sure we have enough tables set up for people to enjoy the food and entertainment," said Festival organizer for the second year Chuck Anderson.

But, there was no doubt about the real center stage attraction -- peaches in over 40 different manifestations. Prepared by women, and a few men, of the church, the array of peach desserts kept many attendees coming back for second and thirds.

"I always get my peach desert first. Then I go for the other food," said James Sohn, the church's festival spokesperson.

Included among the various desert offerings were peach crisp, peach salsa, no sugar added peach pie and peach cobbler. "The cobbler has been a particular favorite this year. Of course some ice cream on top helps," said Jean Harris, one of the servers in the desert tent and a 30-year church member.

Many of the recipes can be found on the church Web site at wesleyva.org/wesley/peach/recipe.html. Although, the festival is not a money raising event, many attendees have requested the opportunity to buy peaches to take home each year, according to Forstall.

This year two additional bushels were purchased from Roers Market on Richmond Highway, supplier of peaches for the festival. These were sold for $5 a bag or approximately $1 per pound, according to Forstall.

"Virginia peaches are up 60 percent this year, $50 per bushel, because of the April frost and extra dry summer. Producers in the Woodstock and Winchester areas tell us the harvest is about half of last year," he said.

But, that fact did not dampen the attendance or enthusiasm of this year's festival. Church members were even sporting a special T-shirt heralding this seven year anniversary.