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'I don't know how to retire,' says grower of the year

Apple grower of the year Bud Dalton poses with 2012 Apple Ambassador Margaret Butler Apple grower of the year Bud Dalton poses with 2012 Apple Ambassador Margaret Butler

Under clear blue skies the 66th annual North Carolina Apple Festival opened with a welcome from officials and festival officials and the announcement of the fourth annual Apple Farmer of the Year, third generation grower Eugene Charles "Bud" Dalton of Edneyville.

Despite trials and hardship like the spring freeze that killed 75 percent of his apple crop this year, Dalton continues to grow apples year after year. "I don't know no other thing to do and I don't even know how to retire, so I gotta stay in apple farming."
Dalton's father and grandfather both raised apples and beef cattle; Dalton and his son, Jeff "Cotton" Dalton, grow apples on 75 acres on their farm on Bald Rock Road. He sells about 80 percent of his crop for processing through the Staton packing house in Dana, which packs and ships the fruit to a Gerber plant in Arkansas.
Dalton has been married for more than 50 years to his wife, Willa Mae, and the couple has raised three children. Dalton keeps his own beehives to pollinate fruit trees. Besides apples, he grows peaches and nectarines. The Apple Farmer of the Year, sponsored by United Community Bank, receives a crystal apple and a gift package from area retailers.

Past winners of the award were Geraldine Lamb in 2009, J.H. Stepp in 2010 and Fred Hoots last year.
The Apple Festival kicked off with the opening ceremony from the main stage in front of the Historic Courthouse, starting with the posting of the colors and including the Pledge of Allegiance, national anthem and recognition of mayors and sponsors.
Led as it has been for many years by Dr. George Jones, the 91-year-old retired minister, the ceremony starts the four-day salute to the apple.
"It's one of the important things we participate in because we're able to display how much we are a community and we're able to share with each other and get out together and have a great weekend," said McCray Benson, president and CEO of the Henderson County Community Foundation.
"Two things are from North Carolina, one is Pepsi and the other is Henderson County apples," said Mark Staicar, a vending manager for the soft drink company. "There's nothing greater and nothing finer."
Earlier, more than 1,000 people feasted on a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, grits and baked apples at the Kiwanis breakfast, the traditional kickoff. In addition to serving around 1,000 plates at $6 each, the Kiwanis Club received donations of close to $500, said Greg Munson, a longtime club leader, including one check for $250.

The Lions Club on Saturday and the Elks Club on Sunday also hosted fundraiser breakfasts that drew large crowds.
The Apple Festival continues today, Saturday and Sunday with the street fair, main stage entertainment and food vendors on Kanuga Road to Sixth Avenue and ends on Labor Day with the King Apple Parade.

Here's where to find more.

Entertainment schedule:

Apple Festival events:

Insiders guide to the Apple Festival: