Though it may seem early for an autumnal fruit, August launches apple season in Henderson county. Apple picking at one of the region’s many orchards offers a safe, socially distanced activity for families. The North Carolina Apple Festival will take place Friday, September 4, through Monday, September 7, with orchards welcoming visitors for harvest fun like apple picking, pumpkin patches and corn mazes. There will be no street fair or King Apple Parade this year, but instead the festival will be focused on supporting local orchards and farmers. “It was a very hard decision to make,” says David Nicholson, executive director of the festival. “But we don’t want to do harm to the festival, our community or the apple industry. We are already working on next year’s festival, which will be the 75th North Carolina Apple Festival. It is going to be great.”
Danielle Stepp McCall, a third-generation farmer at Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard, says this year’s apple crop is abundant. “Overall quality is excellent and volume is good,” she says. About 90 percent of the apples at Stepp’s are usually picked by visitors, a percentage that McCall expects to maintain this year despite the pandemic. “Our farm is about 100 acres of wide open spaces where you can pick apples, grapes, sunflowers and pumpkins,” she says. “We also offer lots of other fun farm activities like the corn maze, apple cannons, wagon rides and a jump pad.” Visitors can enjoy snacks like apple cider donuts, kettle corn and apple cider slushies.
While McCall says she will miss the fun and community of the downtown fair, she hopes this year’s festival will encourage new visitors to visit the orchard. “Moving the festival off the street and out to the farms gives folks the opportunity to visit those farms and meet local farmers,” she says. “We would encourage folks in Western North Carolina to make Apple Festival weekend and fall 2020 the season they head out to the wide open spaces of the farms in our area.”