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Festival honors Apple Grower of the Year (2)

Wayne Barnwell thanked farmers and farm families as he accepted the 2023 Grower of the Year Award.

Wayne Barnwell, a third generation farmer who operates one of the only year-round fruit stands in the county, was honored Friday during the opening ceremonies of the N.C. Apple Festival as the 2023 Apple Grower of the Year.

Established in 2009 by United Community Bank, the award recognizes a grower who is successful not only in the orchard but is a friend to the apple industry and their neighbors.

“This award was created to serve as a reminder to remind us all of the whole reason that we even have an Apple Festival —why we are here, what we are celebrating and who is the apple of our eye,” said Fair Nabers Waggoner, the bank’s city president. “While being a grower is always at the core of the nomination, I am blessed and amazed at how much more there is to honor about these individuals.”

Started as a 15-acre family orchard in 1959, the Barnwell farm today has more than 100 acres in fruit and vegetable production.

“He has always been here to help his neighbors,” she said. “Every year he donates hundreds of bushels of apples to children’s schools, churches and families in need. Every year they plant acres of vegetables, much of which is given to 13 families in need every week.”

Barnwell thanked his wife, son and daughter for their support.

“I'd like to thank everybody in the apple business and the ag business,” he said. “We need to keep all them in our prayers.  And I’d like to thank all the farmers and especially the families of farmers — they’re really the backbone.”

Marvin A. Owings Jr., who nominated Barnwell, has known the grower since he began serving as the county’s apple tree specialist in 1985. Wayne and his mother, Gladys, “helped to make me feel welcome and assisted me in my new role,” he recalled.

The O.C. Barnwell & Sons roadside stand on U.S. 64 near Chestnut Gap Road was the first direct market on U.S. 64 East. Barnwell’s Apple House sells fruit from the 90 acres of apples and 10 acres of peaches Barnwell and his crews grow. “As with most family businesses, his wife, Janet, is the backbone of the operation, selling retail and keeping books.” Son Doug can usually be found managing the apple stand while Marcos Perez is also a loyal longtime employee.

In addition to packing fresh apples for his own fruit stand and other local growers, Barnwell presses produces fresh cider that “is known for top quality up and down the East Coast.”

Over the years, Barnwell, 75, has served in leadership roles for the N.C. Apple Growers Association, the Blue Ridge Apple Growers, Western Carolina Apple Co-op, the Henderson County Farm Board and the Henderson County Cooperative Extension Service.

A favorite pastime is even farm-related — restoring John Deere tractors.

“He freely gives his experience, knowledge and leadership to all generations, young and old,” Owings concluded.