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Apple Festival draws a crowd

The J. Creek Cloggers perform Sunday afternoon at the North Carolina Apple Festival. The J. Creek Cloggers perform Sunday afternoon at the North Carolina Apple Festival.

Though Labor Day weekend was at the mercy of Mother Nature, the 67th annual Apple Festival proved to be resilient enough to outlast showers.

"People usually tend to drift away when we have a storm, but the rain has come early enough that people want to stay a little bit longer. So we have been very busy after the showers," said grower Danny McConnell of McConnell Farms in Dana.
Despite added disease pressure and a longer ripening time due to lack of sunshine, the large amount of rainfall this summer area has not reduced the yield, farmers said.
"The apples are plentiful. We have a lot of them," said Lisa Ball of Coston Farms in Edneyville. "We are trying to get them picked now and trying to find enough pickers is a problem."

Thousands of visitors walked the eight-block street fair, listened to music on the stage at the Historic Courthouse and took home bags of the festival's honored fruit on Sunday.
Growers agree that once again the Honeycrisp was a top seller for its sweet and tart qualities, ability to store well and versatility in the kitchen. However, Candy Newman of Newman Farms noticed that buyers are beginning to stray from the fad apple.
"Last year everyone bought Honeycrisp. But it has been a mix this year, with every other person getting a different variety. This apple isn't as new as it once was. People already know about them, so they aren't the hottest ticket out there," said Newman. "We put samples out and sales have a lot to do with the fact that people are tasting them. You get people from out of town, hearing that Honeycrisp is the hottest apple, but they find out that their taste buds are a little bit different once they start tasting."
Those at McConnell Farms have experienced an interesting turn of events, with buyers being attracted to a hybrid apple grown on their farm.
"One apple that we have been selling for a long time and that has proved to be popular this year is called Reed's Dream," McConnell said. "It is an early Golden that stores exceptionally well. We picked it over a month ago and it is still doing an excellent job at storage. For an early apple, that is unheard of."
Locals and those from out of town agree that the festival has much more to offer than just apples. Interesting vendors selling anything from geodes to birdhouses set up their stands each Labor Day weekend.
"I travel all throughout the Southeast all year long doing outdoor festivals," said John Barber, who sells jewelry and accessories at his Be Cool Shop. "I go from Raleigh to Huntsville, Huntsville to Birmingham, and Birmingham to Dallas. I can say that I do a lot of downtowns. But I continue to come sell at the Apple Festival. This is my third year. It is just a good family venue. There is a lot of variety. It is a good time. It is also a holiday weekend. Everyone is going to stay and eat and walk around, plus there is a theater down here now that is bringing traffic."
With food trucks serving original Greek gyros, local farms dishing out fresh apple cobbler and stands dedicated to the infamous funnel cake, food is a force that drives many to downtown Hendersonville during the event.
"I really like the funnel cakes because they remind me of when I was a little boy at the fair with my family," said Austin Garren, a North Henderson High School student. "Also, I grew up with apple farmers in my family, so the Apple Festival is a nice place to see a lot of my friends working in the stands. I don't think I have met a single unhappy worker there."
It is essentially this friendly atmosphere that has kept Jackie Fontaine of Paris Festival Bakery coming back as a vendor for decades.
"We have been doing this for 21 years and our first show was the Apple Festival. It is the best event in the area," said Fontaine. "We are from France originally and then we moved to Florida, so we know a lot of people around here. We used to do pastries for this area and we decided to stay with it. All the people are wonderful. We love this place."
Not only are individuals benefiting from the celebration, but the community at large benefits from the economic stimulation.
"Look at all the people it has brought and the money that is being spent at the local vendors. It will make people keep coming back," said Dolores Hitner of Gaffney, S.C. "We saw some stores here that may bring us back to shop for Christmas gifts. It really does help business."
Tourists such as Mike Lynch of Charlotte also see the social perks of the festival.
"It is always good when you have something like this that brings together different ethnicities and different economic groups. Everyone is together and having a good time. That is why I love things like this," he said.
For 67 years the Apple Festival has celebrated fruitful apple seasons, yet some locals hope that the holiday will continue to symbolize much more.
"My husband and I have been coming every year since we got married. We got married on Labor Day weekend seven years ago and we have made it a regular thing ever since," said Michele Eliashevsky of Fletcher. "It will always be a tradition."