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The North Carolina Apple Festival named the 2014 Apple Farmers of the Year today as the four-day festival opened under sunny skies on Hendersonville's Main Street.
Pat and Leslie Lancaster, who run the family operation that pioneered direct marketing of apples, were honored as apple growers and retailers who draw crowds of local people, school kids and tourists to their roadside operation on U.S. 64 just east of the Wal-Mart shopping center area.
"Fifty years ago, they took an idea and created a new concept at a place called Grandad's Apples n' Such," said Fair Nabers Waggoner, city president of United Community Bank, which sponsors the annual award.
"While the Lancasters have a multiple generation history in Henderson County's farming community, Pat and Leslie built Grandad's from the ground up," Waggoner said.
Jennifer Blankenship, the marketing director for the Hampton Inn on Sugarload Road, nominated the Lancasters for the award.
"Grandad's Apples is a treasure to our business and the Henderson County community," she wrote. "They work with our hotel during apple season supplying apples to our guests. It is so nice to welcome tourists with a local flair to show off one of our county's biggest assets. Over the years the orchard has grown into more of a guest attraction than just a farm."
The Lancasters run an on-site bakery that makes their famous apple cider doughnuts, sell slushies, local honey and produce, and serve barbecue on weekends. In the fall they add pumpkins, and the cow train and Yodi the llama are kids' favorites.
More than just growers, "they invite an experience," the innkeeper said. "Fall brings pumpkins of all sizes to the farm, and the 5-acre cornfield is transformed into an intriguing maze."
Dr. George A. Jones, who emceed the opening ceremonies, called Waggoner back to the center of the stage after she had presented the award to the Lancasters.
"Your grandmother, Elizabeth Cooper, was the first apple queen," he said. "She married a Nabers."
Jones recalled the first Apple Festival, which was held in Saluda before it moved to Hendersonville.