A Tale of Two Apple Festivals

I live in the North Carolina Mountains in the town of Hendersonville. There’s so very many reasons for people to visit our area but the annual apple festival probably brings the most people to town. Just before the leaves put on their colorful display, we celebrate the gold, red and pink colored fruit that drives so much of the local economy.

Anyone who knows my family, knows that our primary source of recreation is exploring the many wonderful mountain communities that are within a day’s drive of our home. A few weeks ago, after our Apple Festival had come and gone, we were traveling through a small South Carolina town and came upon a festival. The town was Westminster and the festival was the South Carolina Apple Festival. Who knew there were two ‘official state apple festivals’ only a few hours apart from each other?

Both festivals celebrate the annual apple harvest. Only one of them now features locally grown apples – yes, you read that right, one of the festivals had very few local apples. Both festivals are held on a public street, offer entertainment, food and arts and crafts booths. One is much larger than the other and draws more crafters and patrons.

I won’t share which is which. The two festivals clearly showed the difference between the Carolinas we moved to and fell in love with in the early 1980s and the Carolinas that has forgotten its southern roots as it continues to welcome people who want to bring their way of life with them rather than adapt to ours.

Apple Festival 1…

…along with non-local apples, this festival offers a juried arts and crafts show with mostly out of town artisans. Local artisans have been complaining for years that they are continually turned away and told they must wait for an existing, out of town, artisan to give up their spot. Local civic groups are also told there’s no room for their booths. Since preference is given to previous vendors, there’s very little turnover in the craft booths and for some odd reason, they very rarely bring new and innovative pieces to the event despite the amount of sales that take place. A pair of smaller venues were available to local artisans this year but they can never hope to draw the same crowds as the primary event.

Very few of the food vendors are local and the local churches, charities and scouting groups are essentially shut out of the event. The food is all at one end of the event and offered by commercial vendors traveling the carnival and festival circuit. A musical concert was offered the night before the festival began and a small area provides local musicians a place to jam during the event.

Instead of permitting local organizations to have a booth at the event, many of the area churches and charities are given access to commercial parking lots, fence them off and charge anywhere from $5 to $15 to park. The paid parking, lack of local artisans and other things I haven’t mentioned left such a bad taste in our mouths that we have only went to the festival once.

Apple Festival 2

…we don’t know for sure about the apples but from everything we heard, they were indeed local. This much smaller event has a music stage and food booths at both ends of the event. All of the artists we stopped and spoke with came from within about a 100 mile radius of the event. Local churches were selling food, handmade items and giving away bottles of water.

A gentleman had a booth selling a few crafts, sodas and a big donation jar. His child had been born with a severe birth defect. While the child was desperately fighting to live, the family was struggling to pay their bills. His church, friends and family had arranged for the booth – we emptied our pockets into their jar. Another group was collecting donations to send care packages to our troops overseas – they too got some green from us.

Parking was free. What was probably the biggest church in town happened to be a block away from the event. They put up signs and banners welcoming people to the festival, offered free parking, free bathrooms, free baby changing stations and free water. They were also giving away free helium-filled balloons. (Mom was probably the oldest kid to get one. lol) There was even an area designated for anyone having trouble from the heat who wished to enjoy some of their building’s air conditioning. It reminded us of why we moved to and hope to always live in the South and was an event we hope to visit again.

Anyone familiar with this area will more than likely know which festival was in Hendersonville and which one was in Westminster. What’s sad is that the organizers of the first event treat the main street shop owners like they are the enemy. They insist on facing the booths in such a way that makes it difficult to visit the stores. Complaints about non-local participants fall on deaf ears and the price for parking continues to rise.

It’s always sad when a community festival goes over to the dark side of commercialism and loses sight of its origins. We have been wondering if the southern festivals we used to enjoy so much were gone forever. After a fun day at the second festival, my face actually hurt from smiling so much. I absolutely loved it! Take note Apple Festival 1 organizers, we both know you are getting it oh so very wrong.

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