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Apple farmer of the year announced

Mindy and Richard Staton pose with a bin of apples.


Many a baby's first solid food comes from the storage and packing house of this year's Apple Farmers of the Year, Richard and Mindy Staton and their Richmind Co. in Dana.

The Statons were honored as Apple Farmers of the Year during the opening ceremony of the 75th North Carolina Apple Festival on Friday. A past N.C. Apple Grower of the Year, Richard Staton is known throughout North Carolina and the South as an innovator in apple growing and storage and is counted on by fellow farmers for his cold storage capacity. Richard and Mindy began a major renovation of their orchards more than 30 years ago, expanding their nearly 200 acres of trees in efficient medium-density plantings. Staton "encourages the growers he ships for to produce high quality apples" and produce the best "fruit finish, color and size," Marvin Owings, the retired director of the Henderson County Agriculture Extension Service, said in his nomination of Staton for the award.

The Statons operate the largest cold storage and shipping facility for Gerber Baby Foods on the East Coast, handling hundreds of thousands of bushels of their own apples and other growers' harvest. Following his father's and uncle's footsteps, Staton and his son, Josh, continue to expand and innovate even as many growers are downsizing or getting out. A past board  member of the N.C. Apple Growers Association and past president of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association, Staton, along with Mindy, was instrumental in developing an apple education program kit available for every public school in the state.

Known as the unofficial "mayor of Dana" for his church and community involvement, Staton has also worked for many years with the extension service to evaluate solutions for disease, plant growth regulators, tree training and pruning and other apple growing practices and often hosts tours for apple growers to see best practices.

Established in 2009 by United Community Bank, the apple farmer award aims to ensure that the community focuses on the reason the Apple Festival began — "the Amazing Apple Growers."