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By Casey Doyle
North Carolina Apple Festival- The Importance of Apples in Henderson County
As I bit through the Honeycrisp’s speckled red and yellow skin, sweet juices overwhelming my taste buds and running down my chin, I decided that this was the best apple I had ever tasted. Perhaps it was the amazing quality of a locally grown apple. Maybe it was the spirit of the North Carolina Apple Festival. Surely, it could have been my newfound appreciation for the fruit, as I spent the morning speaking with local apple farmers, learning the true significance of the apple to Henderson County.
I first stopped at the McConnell Farms booth, boasting not only rows of brightly colored apples bagged and ready for sale, but a delectable apple cider frozen drink, which was what lured me in. I soon learned that the stand had much more to offer, as I began to speak with Catherine McConnell, who was helping to run the booth.
Still thriving today, McConnell farms has been in her family for three generations, producing apples much of that time. “Families in Henderson depend on apples, my family included,” she said, “they are like cash crops for us.” Apples add to the tourism industry in Henderson County. Events such as the festival and self-pick orchards encourage people to visit the area and buy the local product. In fact, apples bring in average revenue of 22 million dollars to Henderson each year, and the county produces 65% of all of North Carolina’s apples. McConnell went on to emphasize the sense of tradition and community that apples and the festival bring to Henderson. “The theme and tenor of the festival have stayed the same over the years,” Catherine said, “but it has been kept fresh with the addition of new vendors.” The festival is small enough that community members will recognize one another and interact; “It is a family festival” she explained, “a place you come to see the kids you went to high school with.”
I later met Jack Ruff who exemplified the community’s passion for apples. Ruff, who was working at the North Carolina’s Apple Growers Association Booth, has been attending the festival since he was four years old. As I walked over to the booth to examine the apple test tasting that was taking place, I couldn’t help but overhear him explaining the subtle differences between the Red and Golden Delicious Apples. His passion for apples seemed to embody the whole of the festival- how amazing his desire and ability to explain that the Red Delicious, with its thin bright red skin, offers a fine grained flesh that has a mild flavor, different from the Golden Delicious, richer with a firm flesh and tender skin.
I learned that these sorts of differences are important- that each variety of apple has a unique name, taste, appearance, and growing season. It is important because the people of Henderson County devote so much time and love to the production of the crops, because it is thanks to this natural wonder that families sustain a healthy economy and happy community.