[caption id="attachment_173551" align="alignright" width="300"] Vernon tends to his ever-growing orchard, which includes Esopus Spitzenburg, said to be one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites.[/caption] Tell David C. Vernon what your favorite regional
Tell David C. Vernon what your favorite regional North Carolina apple is, and he can guess where you came from. Hungry for a Little Benny? You’ve got roots in Pamlico County, likely near Grantsboro. A small, sweet Tony apple? You must be calling from Stanly, Union, or Cabarrus counties — Vernon might even know your last name. What about a Mary Reid? Well, you wouldn’t know the taste of a Mary Reid apple unless you bought one from Vernon’s farm, Century Farm Orchards in Caswell County. His aunt, along with her neighbor, saved this tree which grew in Vernon’s backyard when he was a child. “I thought everyone had a Mary Reid tree,” he says. He had no idea that the only two Mary Reid trees in the world were on his family’s farm.
Vernon’s journey to preserving North Carolina heritage apples started with a tree that his great-grandfather grew, the Sweetnin’. “I’ve made up the spelling because everyone’s pronounced it kind of funny,” Vernon says. In the 19th century, back when his family farm grew tobacco, this tree stood in the middle of the field so that farmers could stop for a snack. After the Sweetnin’ tree was blown down during a storm, Vernon reached out to heritage apple expert and Pittsboro resident Lee Calhoun to learn how to graft the tree so he could continue growing it. Since saving his Sweetnin’ tree, Vernon has helped preserve hundreds of other apple varieties for families who have their own backyard heritage trees. After all, a North Carolina apple tree is really a family tree.
Century Farm Orchards
An Old Orchard
In 1989, staff members at Horne Creek Farm in Pinnacle were trying to restore the historic property’s orchard to its early 20th-century state — but they needed the right apple trees. So they called the apple expert.
Earlier in the 1980s, retired Army Lt. Col. Lee Calhoun had settled in Pittsboro and planted a few apple trees. His hobby soon grew into the largest collection of old Southern apple varieties in the country. Among the hundreds of trees in Calhoun’s backyard were some of the only remaining examples of varieties that Horne Creek Farm needed.
Today, at Horne Creek’s Southern Heritage Apple Orchard, visitors can walk among more than 425 varieties of apple trees just beyond the original circa-1900 farmhouse, where the founding Hauser family would have enjoyed a few of their favorite heritage picks: Red Junes and Virginia Beauties.
Brushy Mountain Apple Festival — North Wilkesboro
Explore downtown North Wilkesboro with 160,000 fellow apple lovers at this annual event. The festivities kick off with live music at the Apple Jam, followed by a full day of art and crafts, cloggers, folk dancers, rope skippers, and countless apples.
Apple Harvest Festival — Waynesville
During this festival, historic downtown Waynesville becomes the backdrop for the mountains’ colorful bounty. Art and craft vendors display works that celebrate the beauty of western North Carolina and the state’s rich apple heritage.
Lincoln County Apple Festival — Lincolnton
Home Economics Agent Melinda Houser created this festival while working at the Lincoln County Extension office in 1972. The inaugural event drew 300 people. This year, as apple season reaches its peak, more than 80,000 attendees will gather in Lincolnton to meet local growers, visit a farmers market, and listen to live music.print it