Henderson County is considered to be one of the most productive places in the country to grow apples. But it takes more than fertile soil, bright sunshine, and clean water. It takes friends, and Jack Ruff has cultivated those in large quantities.
Last year, Ruff was given the “Friend of Apple Growers Award” by Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association (BRAG) at the annual Winter Apple School. Come February 6, the membership will pick another “friend” at this year’s one-day school held at Blue Community College.
“The award signifies this person has played a pivotal role in the apple industry, other than being a grower,” explains Dr. W. Terry Kelley, Henderson County Extension Director. “It is an honor for that person to be recognized as being of such importance to the apple industry. Ruff had many years of service working with the NCDA [North Carolina Department of Agriculture] in marketing. His efforts to market and promote the apple industry in North Carolina were very successful, and he worked tirelessly to make sure that he served the industry in whatever way that he could to promote them.”
Ruff grew up on a small apple farm in Henderson County but spent his career as the county extension director at Clemson University. “I really don’t feel I deserved the award,” he says modestly. After he retired and returned to his home soil, however, the NCDA asked him fill in for a sick apple-marketing specialist, and he ended up staying on that job for nine years.
“At 76 years old, I thought maybe it was time to retire — again. Then I served as an advisor on the BRAG Board. I continue to work part time and help farmers. Having grown up on a farm, I think I understand farmers and the problems they face,” says Ruff.
The actual award is an inscribed red glass apple trophy. “It says Jack Ruff, Friend of Agriculture. It’s on my fireplace mantel in my home.”
As exemplified by the Apple School’s gathering of the movers and shakers in the apple industry for a pre-season day of education, updates, and networking, it takes cooperation and friendship to maintain industry status. Henderson County grows 85 percent of North Carolina’s apples, and yearly value ranges from $15-$24 million. “We do work well together,” Ruff says. “We each have a job to do and respect and help each other to complete tasks to help the farmer. The vast majority would give you the shirt off their back.”
The NC Cooperative Extension Service and Blue Ridge Apple Association present the annual WNC Winter Apple School on Wednesday, February 6, 7:30am-5pm at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock (in the Blue Ridge Conference Hall) with up to 40 vendors and a dozen speakers. $30. For more information, call the Henderson County Extension Service at 828-697-4891 or e-mail email@example.com.