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.
Every apple product sold in the store has to be fresh and virtually all the apples are grown on the 75 acre farm.
“In 2007, we lost most of our apples to a spring freeze. We considered closing the store, which is open from Aug. 1 until Christmas Eve. Instead, we bought some frozen apples and continued to make our products, but our customers didn’t like it and we didn’t like it,” Arrington recalls.
He knew losing his customer base for a year would be hard to overcome, so he sent his son to Virginia on regular ‘apple runs’ to supply enough apples to keep the bakery running.
The farm, which in its hay day was one of the larger ones in western North Carolina, has an interesting history.
In 1902, Richard Barber Sr. was an enterprising traveling salesman, who sold hardware up and down the East Coast. After peddling some of his wares to an apple grower in New York, he decided he wanted to get into the apple business, but wanted a warmer climate to grow his apples.
Barber rode a train to Asheville, N.C., and rented a horse and buggy and rode around the countryside looking for suitable land to grow apples. He settled at the current site of Barbers Fruit Stand, cleared pine trees from the land and planted his first apple orchards in 1903.
By the time of the Great Depression, Barber had built his orchards to over 500 acres and had developed one of the most popular and long-lasting varieties ever sold — William Tell.
In the 1930’s, Barber’s son, Richard Barber, Jr. took over the apple orchards and started the ‘fruit stand’ in 1932.
The stalwart of Barber Orchards remained William Tell apples. Ironically, one of their first clients, the A&P Tea Company, sold apples from the North Carolina orchard until the Barber’s sold their orchards to a Florida family in 1977.
In 1988, a series of bad crops and bad investments forced the Florida family out of business and Barber farms was split up into parcels and sold at auction. Most of the land once covered with William Tell and other varieties of apples is now covered with houses. One of the larger residential areas is aptly named Barber Farms.
Losing apple orchards is part of an agricultural land-loss epidemic in North Carolina. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler used to lament that his state was second only to California in the amount of farm land lost to industry and residential development each year. Sadly, the Tar Heel state is now No. 1 in that ranking.
“In this county, I can remember when there were several thousand acres of apple orchards and more than 20 growers. Now, I’m it,” Arrington concludes.