Heritage, Education and the heart of Agriculture at Altapass Orchard

by | Aug 17, 2023

#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture! 

At the highest altitude that two trains pass in our North Carolina mountains, stands one of the last remaining agritourism destinations in the area, The Orchard at Altapass. In 1993, Kit Trubey purchased the orchard with the intent of protecting it from future development. Even though she had never farmed before, Kit knew she wanted to keep the history of the orchard alive for the people of Altapass. “There is a lot of history here at the orchard. From the road going through the farm to the varieties of apples that are raised here,” said Sam McKinney, Mission Coordinator for The Altapass Orchard. “The community stepped up to help preserve that heritage by telling stories of the area and teaching the methods that the previous owners had used to grow some of the best apples.” Today, the farm is home to 35 varieties of apples, including King Luscious and Grimes Golden, as well as many on-site events that involve the community and continue sharing the Appalachian heritage of the area.

The Orchard at Altapass is open from May through October every year. As one of the only remaining agritourism farms in Spruce Pine since 2005, they saw over 100,000 visitors last year alone! Not only do they host guided u-pick events to ensure families pick the apples that are ripe, but also music jams, “heyride”s, walking trips on the property, school tours, pollination and education events and more. “Education is a big part of what we do,” said Beth Hilton, Executive Director of The Orchard at Altapass. “No matter what event we are hosting out on the farm, our number one goal is to educate visitors about our history, heritage and farming in this part of the state.”

Every Thursday at 1 p.m., The Orchard at Altapass hosts Music Jams on the Pavilion. These events feature local musicians that come out to enjoy the views and play the music that they love for visitors walking by. “The Music Jams feature more of an intimate setting because musicians sit in a circle and play music for the simple fun of it,” Beth said. All the Music Jam events are free to the public. The orchard also hosts live music performances at the Pavilion every Saturday and Sunday where local popular bands take to the stage.

Many individuals across the state and beyond are familiar with Altapass Orchard because of their guided u-pick events and “heyride”s. Each year, Sam leads the “heyride” out to the fields of over 3,000 apple trees and enjoys educating on the history of the orchard throughout the ride. “It’s an important time for me to share how the orchard came to be and where we are today,” he said. “I push that people not only can be involved here, but that they already are. When you purchase a “heyride“ ticket, you become a part of our mission to preserve the history, heritage, and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains; protect the underlying orchard land with its apples, wetlands, butterflies, and other natural features; and educate the public about the Appalachian experience.” Many of the trees at the orchard are at least 100 years old, so sit back and breathe in the history of the orchard as you ride along the trails.

Upon the conclusion of the “heyride”, customers can enjoy a meal at the Apple Core Grill and visit the General Store. The Apple Core Grill reopened last season and features a limited, and seasonal, menu. “The grill really is a service to our customers. We want them to come and spend a full day at the orchard with us,” Beth said. The grill features a variety of food items, including hot dogs, hamburgers, pimento cheese, and BBQ sandwiches. You can get ice cream and, of course, apple pie in the store all day. After enjoying a meal, visitors can walk over to the General store to purchase apples, honey, farm merchandise, bee products, local crafts, canned foods and more.

As a member of the one of the earliest families in the Altapass community, Sam takes a lot of pride in events held at the orchard to promote the history and future of the farm. “As a family, we take a lot of pride in saving this place and telling its story” he said. “I love having a hand in protecting something so amazing and watching people make this place a tradition for their families. It not only preserves the legacy of the past but sets up the future of this orchard for years to come.”

When visiting the Orchard at Altapass, visitors will not only learn the history and heritage of the area, but also what it takes to grow apples in the area, how to preserve the land and gain appreciation for something bigger than themselves. “People leave here and realize how amazing this industry is, how hard we work and what it takes to grow these delicious apples,” Sam said. Beth and Sam agree that “There’s something magical about this property that almost can’t be put into words, and we are honored to share that with families each and every year at Altapass Orchard”. Start planning your trip today to become a part of the story at the orchard and learn all about the culture of farming and life in the NC Mountains!