The Dirt: Fruit of their labors

I recently cured a possible case of walking pneumonia by downing a quarter-cup of apple-cider vinegar, diluted in 16 ounces of water. My husband, son and I were taking a day drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a trip I refused to miss because of any ailment. So while choking down the home remedy, I kept my eyes steadily fixed on the approaching mountains.

Fruit of life: Glenn Carson named his business Two Buddies Heirloom Apples for sons Hunter and Trae. Photo courtesy Tiffany Carson

What a vile-tasting concoction! I've heard people brag about liking the taste of straight apple-cider vinegar, but I don't believe them. They're the same grandstanding, aggro naturalists who claim: "My kids eat raw broccoli," or "I don't like air-conditioning."

Still, I can't argue with the results. In about an hour, my aching lungs loosened, the wheeze dwindled from my inhalations, and I could breathe free air again.

Turns out, the list of maladies this wonder tonic is purported to cure is so long it actually appears alphabetized on one Web site, Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits. Everything from asthma, eczema and insomnia to burns, hiccups and warts will respond to its application or ingestion, according to the site.

But on to some less unlovely images (and more palatable apple products): It's the start of Western North Carolina's apple season, which is a good time to restate the importance of this canonical fruit. Thanks to orchard-rich Henderson County — which is gearing up to host the 63rd-annual North Carolina Apple Festival over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-7 — North Carolina is the country's seventh-largest apple-producing state.

Further west, in Cherokee County, Glenn Carson of Two Buddies Heirloom Apples offers a dose of nostalgia and good flavor for those who buy his young trees. Taking his cue from much earlier generations of growers, Carson grafts root stocks of almost 100 kinds of rare apples, preserving vintage and unusual varieties, including 'Stayman Winesap', 'June' and a variety native to Clay and Macon counties, 'Beechers' (also spelled 'Beachers').

Sweet!

• The North Carolina Apple Festival happens in downtown Hendersonville Friday, Sept. 4, through Monday, Sept. 7. See www.ncapplefestival.org for a schedule of activities, including orchard tours.

According to the Henderson County branch of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, the most widely grown regional apples are 'Red' and 'Golden Delicious', 'Rome Beauty' and 'Gala'.
• For a list of "U-Pick" apple farms and cider stands, pick up a copy of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Local Food Guide at 729 Haywood Road or at various retail outlets, or visit buyappalachian.org/filter/detail/upick.

Melanie McGee Bianchi is a stay-at-home mom and freelance journalist.
It's the start of Western North Carolina's apple season, which is a good time to restate the importance of this canonical fruit.

"There aren't many young people carrying on this tradition now, and some of these apples are going to disappear," says Carson. Two Buddies was recently awarded a $3,000 Agricultural Options grant for sustainable-farm expansion, administered by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, he mentions. With the funds, he plans to build raised beds, equipped with drip irrigation. This approach will accommodate young grafts for the first two years of growth (or until they are large enough to be field planted), and, hopefully, it will help Carson dodge some pest problems and increase his yield of apple saplings.

He also hopes to pass his passion onto the next generation — particularly his young sons Hunter and Trae, who inspired the name of his business. "I'm doing this so my kids can learn it too, and continue to pass it down."

Meanwhile, in nearby Sylva, pediatrician Carmen Nations praises apples as a "great source of fiber and vitamin C." But they're one of the few fruits she routinely advises parents to buy organic, due to heavy pesticide use on many conventionally grown apples. Nations is also a strong advocate of the hands-on approach: "I would suggest that families visit farmers' markets, orchards or farms to encourage an appetite for fruits and vegetables. … Children can help pick out the fruits and veggies they will eat at home later."

But as far as the whole apple-a-day thing goes, she isn't swept away by the old wives tale. Nation says, "The adage is probably attributable to the fact that people who snack on apples are also eating other healthy foods."

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