Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Mike Stepp, of Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard, is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!
The Stepp family has a long history of farming apples with the pick-your-own business dating back to 1969, but the farm itself actually dates back to the 1930’s when J.H. Stepp started farming with a neighbor. “I think farmers are just born, it’s in their blood and my dad absolutely loved to farm,” said current owner and operator of Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard in Hendersonville, Mike Stepp, “and as a kid you look up to your dad and want to be just like him, so it got in my blood too.” Starting with four varieties of apples, the 40-acre orchard has expanded to grow over 20 varieties of apples today, including Granny Smith, Fuji, Pink Lady, Gala and Honeycrisp. “The ups and downs of vegetable farming made apples appealing from the start because they are sustainable,” Mike said. Although he loves all varieties, his favorites are Cameo, Fuji and John Gold.
In addition to apples, the Stepp family also grows a variety of seasonal crops like grapes, sunflowers and pumpkins. “All of these are popular items because we allow the public to come and pick their own,” Mike said, “and we love having people come out to the farm and enjoy the commodities we work so hard to grow.”
A typical day on the farm encompasses a variety of tasks from deciding what new varieties of apples to grow to managing and keeping up the orchard. “During the weekdays I am doing anything from mowing and spraying the orchard to gathering materials and packing orders for customers that want pre-picked apples,” he said, “then on the weekends I am often giving wagon rides or helping with our variety of agritourism events.”
According to Mike, they decide which varieties will be grown on the farm through their involvement with the Midwest Apple Improvement Association. “They develop new varieties of apples often so we hear about the latest and greatest through our membership with them,” Mike said, “and you have to be a member to get permission to grow one of their new varieties, so when we decide we want to grow a new one, we get it through them.” This year they will be growing two new varieties that are actually related to the Honeycrisp apple, entitled Ludacrisp and Evercrisp.
Products from Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard can only be found on their farm, but they offer a variety of activities that give you a great excuse to visit! In addition to the pick-your-own apples, sunflowers and pumpkins, the farm offers group tours, wagon rides, a corn maze, apple cannon and jump pad for the kids. “The jump pad is new for us this year so we are excited to see the kids enjoy that,” Mike said, “and the apple cannon is a big hit every year because it is pretty big and shoots apples toward a big target.”
Although dealing with the weather can be challenging due to its unpredictability, Mike says there is no greater joy than watching the apples grow each year. “I love the wonder of it,” he said, “seeing the apples grow in every stage and watching them come to fruition is amazing.” Even though there is a local pizza restaurant that makes a mean Apple Stromboli, his favorite way to eat apples from his farm is in an old-fashioned apple pie.
Mike is a full believer in supporting your local economy by purchasing products from local farmers. “We live in a great nation where everything is fresher from a farm stand,” he said, “and when your local neighbors and friends are growing products with integrity, it’s important to support that.
In the future, Mike and his family will continue to honor God with all that they grow and do at Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard. “We will continue to provide good products and services to our customers and members of the community,” he said, “this is what we do and we will continue to do it well.” When he is not at the orchard, you can find Mike enjoying a relaxing day with his children and grandchildren. Be sure to stop by and visit them this weekend to pick out the perfect pumpkin for your family!