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LIGHTNING PHOTOS: Apple Festival opens

Mark Drake, Alicia LaChance and Morgan Drake display fresh apples. Mark Drake, Alicia LaChance and Morgan Drake display fresh apples.

Mildred Lyda was named the United Community Bank Apple Farmer of the Year, a drizzly morning gave way to a sunny afternoon and apple growers praised this year's crop as the 67th  annual North Carolina Apple Festival kicked off on Friday.


Grower Mark Drake said that despite the rain he had grown a good crop this year.

"If you can't grow apples this year, you'll never grow apples," he said.

Growers who operate stands at the festival were doing a steady business in a crowd that festival director David Nicholson said was typical opening day size. Crowds are bigger on the weekend.

Mrs. Lyda ran the family farm with her husband, the well-known grower Rome Lyda, until he died in 2004. Since then, Mrs. Lyda has continued to run the farm, driving a tractor and doing everything farmers do.

"She is now the primary matriarch of the family," said Fair Nabers Waggoner of United Community Bank, the award sponsor. "She is 85 years young and she gets up every morning and works as hard as anyone else."

Mrs. Lyda said she was "absolutely speechless" over the award. "Come tomorrow night you can interview me."

Asked about the crop, she said this year has actually been very bad for vegetable crops, which the Lydas also grow.

"We're thankful to have what we have," she said. "It's the most devastating year since we've been farming. I've never seen so much devastation in the whole county. About 90 percent of our vegetables are gone."