Hendersonville – It is hard to imagine a more festive mood at many of the apple orchards around Hendersonville for this year’s Labor Day weekend. Sadly no actual apple festival parade was allowed this year. Thus new solutions to celebrate a national holiday were needed and were found. It became a very festive weekend with many families all celebrating and enjoying themselves as they took precautions to keep socially distanced and safe.
Main Street in downtown Hendersonville was blocked to traffic. As you walked down Main Street you could see window displays centered around the apple theme. The Goldsmith by Rudi won first place for Merchants, while a first place prize for a Thrift Store was given to Four Seasons Hospice Home Store for their charming window display, using apple fabrics, teapots and a stuffed bear offering the teacher an apple. No traffic on Main Street allowed restaurants and vendors to spread out comfortably.
Never Blue, Hannah Flanagan’s Pub, Moe’s Original BBQ, and Mezzaluna all had tables outside where one could sit down and enjoy a meal. To prevent inside crowding, lines into many restaurants were visible, such as McFarlan’s Bakery, and Mike’s on Main. Additional tents on the street allowed more room for merchandise to be visible with food trucks there too. Black Bear Coffee had their new truck, serving iced and hot coffee on Main Street; while Wag! showed their unique selection of pet treats, food items and accessories under a tent right in front of their store.
Twenty-one orchards banded together to make an Orchard Trail all around the city, inviting all to drive to see their family-owned orchard, stores and barns. The orchard owners rolled out the red carpet with a wide variety of activities for all family members, young and old. Very few parking spaces could be found at any of these orchards— Freeman Orchards, Justus Orchards, Grandad’s Apple N’ Such, Coston Farm, or Odell Barnwell & Sons. The County Tourism Development Authority offered directional maps, taking you up and down Hwy 64 and off roads to find these farms, all overflowing with all kinds of agricultural products.
Picnic tables were provided with magnificent views, and many spots to pick up a snack, a barbecue, or a full meal. Children could get aboard a cow train pulled by a tractor to see the farm or take a hayride; they could jump up and down on an inflated air mattress, or go with their parents into a corn maze. At Grandad’s Apples there was a long line to shoot apples out of a cannon over a pond, aiming to hit a large scenic target. At many farms, you could pick your own apples from the trees laden with fruit, or for the less energetic you could just buy the quantity you wanted in their store.
Every sort of apple—a Golden Delicious, a Mutsu, a Fuji, a Red Delicious, a Rome Beauty, or a Granny Smith—was available to be picked or purchased, in all sizes, shapes and quantity (a 1/2 peck, a peck, 1/2 bushel or a bushel—or just a few). Everything that you could possibly imagine with an apple as an ingredient could be found: cider, apple slushies, apple pies, apple jelly, apple fritters, apple butter, apple jams and jellies, caramelized apples, dried apples, apple sauce, apple syrup. You name it; you could find it. Many farms will remain open after Labor Day, with children’s activities on the weekends.
Other activities were planned throughout Labor Day. The Apple Ambassador was chosen earlier. The Apple Ambassador represents the North Carolina Apple Festival and the North Carolina Apple Growers Association. The 2020 Apple Ambassador is Emma Elizabeth Gilliam. Gilliam is a student at East Henderson High School. Her parents are Maggie and Bruce Gilliam. The Runner-up is Haley Nicole Hargus, who is a rising senior at East Henderson High School. Her parents are Beverly and Greg Hargus.
The Kiwanis Club gave “free pancake breakfasts to go” at the Historic Hendersonville Train Depot on Saturday to the community. The Elks Lodge held a full apple breakfast on Sunday for a small fee, with to-go plates available. The Laurel Park Village Merchants held a sidewalk sale. Then on Labor Day Monday, The Bandit Flight Team flew over Downtown Hendersonville. Six small colorful propeller planes flew in formation at noon. This awe-inspiring fly-over and ariel salute reminded one of the planes and events of World War II. The Bandit Flight Team is a group of highly-trained pilots that combine their love of flying with an appreciation for vintage military aircraft. The Bandits, based in the Raleigh area, perform at many events including NC State football games, Durham Bulls baseball games, military ceremonies, and charity events.
As sad as it was for the traditional Labor Day Apple Festival Parade to have to be canceled, the town of Hendersonville picked up the ball and ran with it. Hundreds came out to celebrate–wearing masks and observing the needed social distancing. No, COVID 19 would NOT stop Hendersonville residents and visitors from celebrating their primary crop. The theme this year was “COVID, COVID Go Away, Eat NC Apples Everyday!” Over 5,500 acres are dedicated to apple crops in Henderson County, and the county remains number one in apple production for the state. That was certainly something to be celebrated over Labor Day weekend—-one way or another.