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Stepp orchard shows Meadows 'agritainment' and sustainable family farming

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows shows a crimson crisp apple in Stepp's Hillcrest U-pick Orchard in Edneyville. U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows shows a crimson crisp apple in Stepp's Hillcrest U-pick Orchard in Edneyville.

EDNEYVILLE — At Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchards, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows stood in the retail shed to learn about one of Henderson County’s first and most successful U-pick apple farms.


Fifty years ago, J.H. Stepp and his wife, Yvonne, took a chance on what was then an unconventional approach: let buyers pick their own apples.
“I think there was one other one” in 1969, when his parents started the U-pick orchard, said 69-year-old Mike Stepp, who was honored as Apple Farmer of the Year at the North Carolina Apple Festival on Friday.
Attentive to the agricultural community that’s an important economic engine in his congressional district, Meadows makes farm visits a regular part of his constituent service. During his visit to the Stepp farm, aides joked about buying up plenty of “six packs” of pumpkin and apple cider donuts and Meadows learned how the Stepps had created a sustainable farm that now extends to a fourth generation.
Meadows chatted up Stepp’s grandson, Gus McCall, about fishing, and extracted baking secrets from granddaughter Callie McCall, a 15-year-old homeschool student who drives a tractor.
“What’s the secret to good donuts?” the congressman asked before whispering a suggestion in her ear. “Apples,” she said. Seriously, she added, make the dough light and fluffy. Not that baking is her favorite job on the farm. “I prefer not to smell like a donut all day,” she said.

A few minutes later, Meadows listened while Rita Stepp explained how the U-pick approach has expanded and brought in more revenue. Besides the pick-your-own orchard, the farm offers school tours, cornhole games, a corn maze, pumpkin patch, apple shooting cannons and other forms of “agritainment,” Rita said.
“Agritourism, I know that,” Meadows said with a grin. “Agritainment. First time I’ve heard that. I like that.”
Meadows, who turned 60 on July 28, also talked about his new life as grandfather of a toddler.
“I’m Boompa to her,” he said of his granddaughter, who is 2½. “Boompa is she asks and I say yes.”

MarkMeadowsStepps1U.S. Mark Meadows poses with the Stepp family.Meadows huddled with Stepp to ask about farming. Later, the Lightning asked Stepp what he might want from Congress.
“I don’t really have issues with labor. I know a lot of my fellow growers do because they do help from out of state,” he said. “Agritourism is what we do. It’s really getting bigger in North Carolina, it’s getting big across the U.S.”
Stepp turned to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who was listening.
“I hope that both of y’all can be an advocate for us in whatever comes along for agritourism,” he said. “It’s helping us hold on to this family farm. If we had to make it just on farming we wouldn’t make it. With the agritourism that we do, we can, and we've got family that’s here, our children want to be here, we can keep this family farm going, but we could not do it just on apple growing.”

Tweeting Trump

Meadows, the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus and one of President Trump’s most loyal allies in Congress, said that he had talked with Trump Tuesday and told him he would be visiting apple growers and other farmers in his district this week.
“We’re trying to make sure they don’t feel too much pain because of the China reset,” he said.
Meadows, the Stepp family members in their “Farmhand” T-shirts and the congressional aides boarded a tractor-drawn wagon into the fruit-laden orchard, where the congressman picked a basket of crimson crisp apples. (Give it a little twist, Stepp said, when asked if there was a secret to properly picking an apple.)
Meadows then got the idea to tweet a photo to President Trump of his visit to the farm.
“We’re going to tweet that we’re with North Carolina growers and the agriculture community is looking forward to working with President Trump for years to come,” he said.
After picking apples, Meadows praised Stepp for keeping the family farm alive.
“Thank you," he said, "for passing this along to generations and generations."