Peaches bloom just in time for 88th Romeo festival

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Westview Orchards

Romeo — Growers in southeast Michigan say they lucked out this year after their crops bloomed in time for the 88th annual Romeo Peach Festival this Labor Day weekend. 

“We didn’t think we’d have a crop this year because everything got delayed from inconsistent weather,” said Katrina Roy, who co-runs the 188-acre Westview Orchard in Washington Township. “We are so blessed the spring was good for our fruit and especially, our peaches. Unfortunately, our pumpkins are behind."

Thousands of people were spread throughout Romeo for the famous festival, which runs through Monday. The Labor Day weekend tradition features parades, farmer’s and artisan markets, craft shows, classic car shows sporting tournaments and a kids carnival. More than 200,000 people are expected to attend, said Rob Kreger, vice president of the festival. 

“Our farmers provide a lot to the city and we are excited to celebrate them,” he said. “It takes all year to plan this. We’ll start planning next years starting next month."

One of the largest attractions is the Frontier Town, a collection of crafters and bakers showcasing their orange-glazed peach pies, peach kettle corn, peach candy and ice cream. Even the local McDonald’s was featuring peach slushies. 

“It’s the ambience that brings us back,” said Cristiana Vasquez, 28, of Troy. “My mom and I like the craft show and going downtown to the antiques. I personally love peaches but haven’t had one this year so I’m excited."

The city crowned Abigail Deskins, 4, as Lil’ Miss Peach Blossom and Blake Goike, 4, Mr. Peachy King. Michigan State University student Isabel Wallace, 19, of Washington Township was crowned this year’s Peach Queen of Romeo.

At Westview, the only bicentennial orchard in Macomb County, customers return for the peach barbecue sauces, preserves, hot peach peppers, peach-flavored salsa, salad dressings, butter and doughnuts. 

Roy, who runs the orchard with her sister Abby and brother-in-law Bill Jacobson, said she prefers a dry season over a wet season. The sisters are the sixth generation to own the farm and said perfecting their craft is all about science and weather. 

“When our ancestors left Detroit and traveled north, they passed by five lakes to this spot on Van Dyke where they needed a microclimate,” she said. “Our rolling hills and good soil are the secrets. We know a lot of other parts of Michigan lost their peach crops this year from the harsh winter when it hit 14 degrees below.”

Roy said each year, growers pray their fruit buds survive the harsh Michigan winters to make it to spring. If the weather hits 30 degrees or below, they lose the entire tree. She said their worst year was 2012, when spring was extra warm and fruit blossomed early and then were hit with an unexpected freeze. Most farmers lost their crops.

“We were a little dry this year, but we irrigated, and heat stresses sugar so this crop is just a little sweeter,” she said.

Ethan Domanik, 6, of South Lyon, helps Rosco The Clown, a.k.a. Ross Champion, 61, of Mount Clemens, with his balloon trick and walks away as Balloon Man.

Keith Chase, who grew up across the street from Westview and briefly worked there, returned Saturday to buy his bag of peaches, saying the area which once relied on orchards has changed. 

“A lot of the people started here and then went on to start their own orchards,” said Chase, 74. “There's far fewer orchards. Over half the amount of orchards than there were in the '60s and '70s have closed. Part of it is sad but we all look at the way it’s going now and it’s exciting to see how much it has diversified.”

Roy said she farmers are the last remaining true American entrepreneurs.

“You have to grow it, care for it, follow the growing laws, constantly be innovative, and adapt to the consumer,” she said. “We have agro-tourism now. You have to sell them on the fun of going and picking their own fruits and vegetables and petting the animals.

“It works because it grounds us.” / Twitter: @SarahRahal_