Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Apple Ambassador has many talents

Apple Ambassador Callie Stepp McCall is always ready to drive a tractor on the family farm.

Callie Stepp McCall has apples in her blood.

“Apples are my life,” McCall said shortly after the North Carolina Apple Festival named her the 2021 Apple Ambassador. “I have been around apples my entire life. I love helping out on the farm.”
McCall is a fourth-generation member of an apple farming family and spends apple season every year working in her family’s orchard, Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchards in Edneyville, learning the business from the ground up. And she said she thinks she might come home and work on the farm fulltime once she completes college.
The 17-year-old does everything from driving tractors around the farm off U.S. 64 East to manning a cash register during harvest season to leading students on field trips through the orchards.
“There are hard days but generally it is with a willing spirit,” she says.
The Apple Ambassador represents the festival, making public appearances throughout the event’s four-day run in Hendersonville over Labor Day weekend, and at other events locally and across the state. Each year, the festival selects its ambassador from local rising high school seniors.
McCall said applying to be considered for Apple Ambassador is something of a tradition among the girls in her family. One of her cousins applied her junior year during another Apple Festival and other girls in the family also intend to apply in later years.
“I was so excited,” she says of the committee’s decision to choose her. “It was an honor.”

Callie get your gun


Serving as Apple Ambassador is not the only exciting part of McCall’s summer.
She and her sister, 15-year-old Maggie, are part of a team currently in Nebraska for the National 4-H Shooting Sports Invitational. The team returns to Hendersonville June 27. The McCall sisters and four other teenagers on the local 4-H team are competing against other teams from around the country in the competition’s air rifle event.
McCall said her family enjoys shooting together for fun and sometimes shoots shotguns and .22-caliber rifles. She said she might eventually want to compete in shooting the bigger caliber firearms.
“I just think it’s fun. It’s satisfying,” she says. “I do like winning.”
Dessie McCarson, an 18-year-old on the air rifle team, said before the team left she was also looking forward to the competition. She said she’s proud her teammate will represent the county as Apple Ambassador.
“She must have done a lot to earn that responsibility. She’s very organized, very responsible,” McCarson said. “She’ll take her job very seriously. She cares about her community too.”
McCall joined 4-H as a third-grader at the encouragement of her family.
She is the daughter of Rex and Danielle McCall and is homeschooled through Mountain Gems Academy, a name that reflects a packing label the family farm once used.
Danielle McCall describes herself as “proud all the way around” that both her daughters are headed to the national shooting competition and that Callie was named Apple Ambassador. She described Callie as a people person who has never met a stranger.
“She’s done lots of public speaking though 4-H,” Danielle says. “4-H has been a huge advantage for all my kids.”
McCall will receive a $2,000 scholarship as part of her recognition as Apple Ambassador.
She said she plans to attend Blue Ridge Community College once she graduates from high school before transferring to a four-year school. McCall says she is leaning toward a degree in digital arts and hopes to return to the family farm in some capacity once she completes her education.

An apple farming legacy


Like many Apple Ambassadors before her, McCall brings a rich family legacy to the job of promoting the apple industry. Her great-grandparents, J.H. and Yvonne Stepp, started one of the first U-pick apple orchards in Henderson County in 1972 and her grandparents, Mike Stepp and Rita Stepp, a retired teacher, currently run the multi-faceted farm along with other family members.
Regarded as a model of agritourism, the Stepp farm in addition to pick-your-own apples has an on-site bakery and shop selling apple cider, jams and other farm products, a pumpkin patch and tours and wagon rides for students and other visitors. Mike Stepp was named Apple Farmer of the Year at the 2019 North Carolina Apple Festival nine years after his father won the honor.
The Apple Ambassador and runner-up are awarded the Evelyn Lutz Hill Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of the longtime secretary of the North Carolina Apple Growers. Hill was serving as president of the North Carolina Apple Festival when she died in 2004.
Apple Ambassador runner-up was Sadie Anna Rowe, a rising senior at Hendersonville High School and the daughter of Charles and Debbie Rowe. She will receive a $1,000 college scholarship. Other applicants were Kylie Varnadore, of Hendersonville High School, and Anaya Padilla, Savannah Crisp and Kera Putman, all of West Henderson High School.