A Matter of Justus

Pioneering U-Pick farm is finally a presence at Apple Festival

Don Justus counts apple statistics — and generations in the business.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

For more than 70 years, Hendersonville has hosted the North Carolina Apple Festival, celebrating the county’s multimillion-dollar cash crop. The annual event includes free entertainment, craft vendors, street food, and enough apples to keep the doctor away until the end of time. Bold Life spoke to Don Justus of Justus Orchard, a family farm participating in the festival. The orchard was established in the late 1800s and is still active across six generations of his family. 

Congratulations on being part of the Apple Festival for the second year. I understand you were on a waiting list for 20 years.

I forget how many, but we feel fortunate, and try to make it fun for the whole family.

As part of the farm’s fourth generation, did you always plan on being an apple grower?

Yes, and my wife fell in love with it when we were married.

What varieties do you grow?

My dad was growing Rome Beauty, Winesap, and Gold and Red Delicious. Now we have 22 different varieties and don’t even bother with Red Delicious because there are so many other varieties with better flavor. One we just planted is not even on the market yet, a cross between a Honey Crisp and a Fuji.

Don’t you grow dwarf trees that are easier for visitors to pick?

Yes, we planted some of the first dwarf apple trees in Hendersonville. We plant about 400 per acre, and they are in full production in four years. My dad planted maybe 50-100 trees per acre, and they didn’t reach full production until they were eight years old and big as a large maple tree. And now we are planting on a trellis system, like growing apples on a bean vine. We’re planting 1,200 to 1,300 trees per acre and getting fruit in 18 months.

That’s incredible. 

My dad was selling to different processing companies, like for applesauce and Gerber baby food. Now we are geared 100 percent for agritourism. Everything we grow we sell right here on the farm. It took time to get there, but Mom started selling on the farm and opening it to the public in 1968. Nobody ever heard of the public wanting to pick their own fruit at that time. Now we welcome guests with a bakery, apple-cider donuts, apple-cider slushies, a big jumping pillow, and a cow train.

A cow train? 

It’s a ride pulled behind a tractor … each cart where the children ride is decorated to look like a cow. We have an air cannon, too, that shoots apples at targets, for little and big guests alike.

The North Carolina Apple Festival happens Friday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 2 in downtown Hendersonville. See ncapplefestival.org for more information. Justus Orchard is located at 187 Garren Road in Hendersonville. 828-974-1232. See justusorchard.com or Justus Orchard on Facebook for seasonal news and updates.

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