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Grand marshal has been important to apple industry

J.D. Obermiller, who has a popular strawberry patch, spent his career researching apples. J.D. Obermiller, who has a popular strawberry patch, spent his career researching apples.

Although this year’s Apple Festival Grand Marshal, J.D. Obermiller is known for his strawberries, he has been closely involved with that bigger red fruit for 40 years.


The North Carolina State University graduate began working with NCSU’s apple research team at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River when he was a student. The summer after his junior year, he was asked to be a student helper at the research facility, when it all began.
“My job was working as a farm worker, but I was doing some other things for my professors at the research station,” he said, like working with strawberry and potato specialists.
After graduating and leaving the research station, Obermiller received a call from one of his former professors about being a permanent assistant at the farm. He just retired from working at the lab in January. In his 40 years, he was even able to run the entire program for a while.
“My connection was being a horticulture major and working as a summer student at the research farm,” he said of his beginnings as a research assistant. “It was nice to get the opportunity to come home. I feel so lucky that it happened that way.”
Obermiller’s greatest accomplishment was helping to develop a spray that reduced the amount of chemicals needed to treat orchards while still being effective, he said.
“In our project, our job was to test out new techniques of trying to grow apples more efficiently,” he said. “We developed a more efficient spray application system.”
As Grand Marshal, Obermiller looks forward to leading the Apple Festival parade for the first time. His family has been in previous parades through West Henderson High School band and his antique tractors have been on display. But he’s never ridden in the front.
He is honored to take the position.
“Our job in apple research is to look at new and better ways for the growers to be efficient in their orchard operations,” he said. “It’s been really exciting for me personally to be part of that and to be connected with the apple industry. Growing up in Henderson County, it was a real privilege to be able to come home and work with and serve folks that I’ve known for a long time. To me part of the honor of being asked to be Grand Marshal is still having that connection to the industry.”
Retired only from his day job, Obermiller is as busy as ever on his farm. He looks forward to expanding the produce, which currently grows blueberries, broccoli, pumpkins and his famous strawberries.
“We took that chance of planting strawberries, and it just grew over the years,” he said of his decision to plant the fruit 1980. “We are seeing our third generation of customers coming into our farm. People will say, ‘We came with our grandma when we were little.’ That’s an honor that the young families that picked here when they were kids still feel a connection to bring their kids.”