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Posted: 01/15/14

MAKING SAUERKRAUT. At left, a group sits around getting their sauerkraut ready for curing with homemade pestles and buckets. Clockwise from lower left, Lauren White, Jan White, Tom Lindberg, Kerry Simonetti and Mark White. Above, organizers, from left, Jeff Mulholland, George VanHoutte and Henry BeBlouw.

(Observer photos by Linda Lindberg)

Hundreds gather for
8th sauerkraut festival

Observer Staff Writer
      George VanHoutte, a farmer out of Armada, said for the past seven years he has held small gatherings at his farm to make sauerkraut.
       He never thought the humble tradition would lead to an all-day event at an orchard that draws in a thousand people and raises money for local veterans.
       "We had a bunch of new people this year, a lot of families came with their kids," he said. "There were a couple of people who drove by and saw it and stopped in."
       The 8th annual event, held on Jan. 4, was moved from VanHoutte's farm to Miller's Big Red Orchard on 32 Mile Road to accommodate for the hundreds of families and individuals that wanted to take home a bucket of homemade sauerkraut.
       Sauerkraut (which translates to "sour cabbage") is made up of finely shredded fermented cabbage and is known for its sour flavor and long shelf life. VanHoutte said the nutritious food can be part of a healthy diet and even prevent certain diseases.
       "There are a couple of reasons why we have it on the first Saturday of every year," he said. "One main reason is because it's our off-time, but that is also when people are thinking about eating healthier."
       The tradition started with an idea amongst VanHoutte and a dozen of his workers to use up an extra skid of cabbage. People would hear about it and join, causing it to swell year after year. At first, participants would shred the cabbage by hand, but VanHoutte later invested in a machine that does it for them.
       To give an idea of the amount of people that participated, VanHoutte said this year's event went through 14,000 pounds of cabbage, which his farm donated along with salt.
       "It's the type of food you don't need to refrigerate, you can freeze it, can it, it's kind of a survival food," he said.
       The event was free, but donations were accepted that were given to the VFW Post #2052. VFW members also sold beer during the event as a fundraiser.
       Jeff Mulholland, a partner at Miller's Big Red Orchard, said they were glad to host the event, which he said lasted from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. He said they hope to expand upon it next year.
       "It's gone from having a house party kind of event at someone's residence to being something more than that," he said. "Some people spent a couple of hours there."
       Mulholland said the event has inspired the orchard to look at creating other food festivals throughout the year, such as partnering with Garden Fresh Salsa for a summer salsa festival or a corn festival with local farmers.
       "We've met with a lot of other local people and business people that want to do some things," he said.
       VanHoutte said he would like to continue the sauerkraut festival as well, especially if the VFW wants to remain involved.
       Buckets to hold the sauerkraut were provided by Garden Fresh Salsa.

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