What is in this article?:
- Labor and marketing challenges that have knocked all the other 20 or so apple growers in Haywood County, N.C., out of business — except Benny Arrington.
- When he grew his first crop of apples on what had been Barber Farms, Arrington hired a group of Mexican laborers to help him spray, pick and process his apples. Over the years, he paid them well, treated them fairly and even helped several get green cards and subsequently U.S. citizenship.
Benny Arrington is a fourth generation North Carolina apple grower who has managed to overcome many of the labor and marketing challenges that have knocked all the other 20 or so apple growers in Haywood County, N.C., out of business.
Arrington, his son Steven and wife Jane also own and operate Barbers Orchard Fruit Stand, a North Carolina institution since it was established in 1932.
Located along U.S. Highway 74, a mile or so from one of the main entrances to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and near Waynesville, N.C., Barber’s has been a must stop for several generations of tourists visiting the Great Smoky Mountains.
Calling the popular store a fruit stand is akin to calling Paula Dean a good cook. It’s much, much more than one of North Carolina’s oldest fruit stands to regular customers who visit the bakery for everything from apple donuts to apple cider slushies.
On a recent Saturday morning, Barber’s was filled with anxious patrons, pouring through the many bins of apples to find just the right combination. In the adjacent bakery and store, a long line was waiting for an assortment of apple products that Arrington admits totals more than he can remember.
Linda Kitchens, who lives in Atlanta, says Barber’s is a must stop. “We have a mountain home near here, and I come here in the summer to buy fresh vegetables and in the fall and winter to buy apples,” she says.
On this day the Atlanta native stocked up with a gift box of apple jams for Christmas stocking stuffers, an apple pie for Thanksgiving and a half peck of Cameo apples. A long line of patrons made similar purchases on this crisp November morning.
At one time Barber Orchards spanned more than 500 acres. Arrington still grows 75 acres of apples, including 20 or so different varieties. All the Thanksgiving apple pies and cakes, apple turnovers, fritters and on and on are made fresh daily from apples grown on the North Carolina farm.
He has run the farming operation for the most part with the same labor force since he bought one of the parcels of land that once made up Barber Farms and the fruit stand in 1993.
“I read about all these horror stories of how farmers are forced to destroy crops and to go out of business because they don’t have enough labor, and I know it’s bad. But, we have been very fortunate to have a dedicated group of workers who help us during critical periods of apple production every year,” Arrington says.
In addition, the store and bakery are a veritable beehive of activity of friendly workers quick to cut you a sample slice of one apple variety or another or explain the delicate art of making donuts from apples. Finding such dedicated employees, willing to work six months out of the year, is another testament to people skills of Benny and Jane Arrington.