“Evidence of Yesterday” is the theme for this year’s North Carolina Apple Festival, an almost too-telling label for the 59th celebration of the annual event.
In some ways, apple culture itself is a relic of the region’s past — a relic with an uncertain future.
Textile and heavy manufacturing aren’t the only jobs leaving North Carolina. Apple growers face many of the same issues that confront industrial operations, and with similar results. U.S. apple-juice production has dropped, while labor costs are lower in developing nations. Apples and juice from halfway around the world can compete in price with local produce. Then, too, cattle ranching may yield a higher return per acre, and farm land subdivided into half-acre house lots can often bring a premium price.
Over the past decade, Hendersonville’s apple orchards have dwindled by half, to less than 5,000 acres. Henderson County Agricultural Extension Agent Marvin Owings notes that a small tract in Edneyville, the heart of apple country, recently sold for “around $30K per acre! Growers can’t afford to pay that kind of money for fruit-orchard ground.” Owings also observes that “foreign competition [China, South America, etc.] is affecting the low price of our single-strength and concentrate juice.”
To the north, in Buncombe County, economic pressure “has resulted in two of the five operations pushing out their trees,” according to Director Kenneth Reeves of the Buncombe County Cooperative Extension Service. “The land is now being converted to pasture for cattle.”
An alternative strategy adopted by other growers is to go organic, aiming for a higher-priced but arguably healthier crop. Led by Anthony Owens, whose Windy Ridge Farm is the only certified organic apple operation in the state (“Upsetting the Apple Cart,” Xpress, Nov. 26, 2003), a handful of growers have chosen the organic alternative. Currently, Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview and Riverview Orchard in Arden are working toward organic certification — a changeover which takes at least three years.
Through the market downturn and organic upswing, Hendersonville remains the epicenter of North Carolina apple production. Apple Wedge Packers and Cider, one of the area’s larger production facilities, offers orchard and plant tours through October. And the Labor Day-weekend North Carolina Apple Festival is still Henderson County’s principal community celebration. Evidence of tomorrow?
Making dip while the sun shines
No one knows the future of apple production in Henderson County. With that in mind, we selected Diane Justus’ quickie “Apple Dip” to share with readers — a recipe borrowed from the Apple Wedge Packers and Cider Web site:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla
Half c. powdered sugar
Blend together. Top with caramel topping (not too thick). Dip slices in the dip. Granny Smith apples are good to use.
The 59th Annual North Carolina Apple Festival, a free street fair, runs Friday, Sept. 2 through Monday, Sept. 5, in downtown Hendersonville, including singer/songwriters, square-dancing and big-band music; clowns, cloggers and gospel quartets; crafts and vendors; and, of course, apples and apple products. For a schedule of auxiliary events, including the Apple Country Bike Tour, visit www.ncapplefestival.org or call (828) 697-4557.