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Five Henderson County farms on North Carolina agritourism tour

Mike Stepp, holding the 2019 Apple Farmer of the Year Award, and family pose at the farm's apple stand on Main Street during the N.C. Apple Festival last year. [LIGHTNING FILE PHOTO] Mike Stepp, holding the 2019 Apple Farmer of the Year Award, and family pose at the farm's apple stand on Main Street during the N.C. Apple Festival last year. [LIGHTNING FILE PHOTO]

Although they won't be able to enjoy fresh apples, farmers from across the state will learn about one of Henderson County's most successful pick-your-own operations when they visit Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard next week. The farmers will visit another apple orchard with a successful roadside retail operation on U.S. 64 and three other farms in the county that welcome visitors during the annual Agritourism Farm Tour and Conference.

Hosted by the North Carolina Agritourism Networking Association Inc., the agritourism conference will be held in Asheville this year. The agritourism network is made up of farmers who welcome visitors to their farms. The Farm Bus Tour on Monday, Feb. 10, makes its first stop at the Hillcrest orchard, where the Stepp family will share about their pick your own apples operation and other activities the farm offers to visitors. Three generations of the Stepp family work at the orchard and shed, hosting school groups, families who come year after year and tourists and selling apple cider donuts and other pastries from an on-site bakery.

Other stops on the bus tour are Mountain Fresh Orchard, Mills River Creamery and Dairy, North River Farms and Hickory Nut Gap Farm.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the conference continues at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Asheville. Speakers from Farm Bureau Federation and the state Department of Agriculture will focus on agritourism issues and trends. Several workshops will offer strategies and best practices for the agritourism industry.