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BRAG honors farmer, lifetime achievement, friends of growers

A longtime apple grower, an innovator in agritourism and two professionals who serve the apple industry were honored last week by the Blue Ridge Apple Growers (BRAG) during the annual Winter Apple School held virtually.


Each year BRAG honors the Apple Grower of the Year and Friend of the Apple Grower and presents a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mike Stepp, the second-generation owner of Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard in Edneyville, was named Apple Grower of the Year for innovative marketing that draws young schoolchildren, senior groups and tourists from all over to his family's U-pick orchard. Hillcrest founders J.H. and Yvonne Stepp started one of the first U-pick farms in Henderson County in 1972 and over the years the family has added an on-site bakery, wagon rides, apple cannons, jams and preserves and other farm goods and attractions. It was the second major award for Stepp and the Hillcrest family. Stepp was named Apple Farmer of the Year at the North Carolina Apple Festival in 2019.

The Blue Ridge Apple Growers gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to Alvin McCraw, another Edneyville grower, for his "long record of service and achievement to the apple industry in Henderson County" and for "keeping up a good business for many many years," said Terry Kelley, an apple specialist who is director of Henderson County's Cooperative Extension Service.

The apple growers association honored two people with the Friend of the Apple Grower Award. The recognition is presented to someone who is not a grower but who contributes to the success and welfare of the industry over a sustained period of time.

Elena Rogers, an area agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension, was recognized for her service to the industry in the area of food safety.
Charlie Clark, pesticide inspector in Western North Carolina for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, won for his service to the industry in helping growers to maintain their pesticide license certification and credits. Clark is known to schedule training growers need to remain pesticide-certified in the offseason and "is a great resource for the growers when they have questions about pesticides, safe and legal uses and protecting our beneficial insects," BRAG said.