Organic-orchard pioneers find a way to keep thriving
“We’re kind of a black sheep,” laughs Anthony Owens, the third-generation owner and operator of Twisted Apple Farms in Hendersonville — one of the first and few orchards on the East Coast to have been certified as an organic apple grower back in 2001. “A lot of the other farmers look at [organics] as not doable, that it’s ridiculous, or that this area isn’t suitable for that,” says Owens. But after 17 years, it’s pretty clear to Owens that it works.
Apples have long been the staple crop of Henderson County, so much so that in 1958, Gerber was incentivized to place a baby-food manufacturing facility in South Asheville. But when the local Gerber facility collapsed in 1998, a lot of growers were left without a primary buyer. “It kind of changed the game on us, as to where people were sending fruit, the prices we were getting back … we were losing profit,” explains Owens. “We saw the trend moving away from traditional farming into healthier, cleaner-type production. The market was fresh and starting to grow.”
But the money wasn’t the only part of the decision to turn their 75-acre farm fully organic: “My dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.” He adds, solemnly, “All the years of pesticides might have had something to do with that … we can’t nail down that the pesticides were the cause for it, but any time that you’re exposed to pesticides and heavy metals over the years, it makes you wonder. You take a step back a bit when you look at the things that he suffered through … I don’t want to take that chance. We wanted to do a cleaner, safer form of fruit growing.”
While not the only facility in the county producing organic fruit anymore, Twisted Apple Orchard is still the only orchard that offers an all-organic pick-your-own option. Unfortunately, the pandemic has halted that program in its tracks, along with several other plans Owens had for increasing his venue’s agritourism attractions, such as expanding a play area for kids. Twisted did open a bakery last year selling organic apple pies, cakes, breads, doughnuts, and snickerdoodles, which, along with their farm stand, remains open for business.
“I get a ton of people calling and wanting to know if they can come pick in the orchard, or if there’s activities on the farm where the kids can play,” says Owens. “I’ve had several people call me and ask me if they can bring their kids, just to let them roll down the hill in the organic grass, and at that point, you kind of have to say okay.
“If we can share the organic experience with the common family, and get them to understand what it takes to do that, then a greater appreciation of what it means will come from that.”
Twisted Apple Farms, 4039 Chimney Rock Highway, Hendersonville. The farm stand and bakery are open Saturdays and Sundays, 9:30am-6pm. For more information, call 828-712-1919.