Tennessee Apple Farmers

Heroes, Local Heroes
on October 1, 2007
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

Jasper Willis started growing apples in Coffee Ridge, a section of Unicoi County in northeastern Tennessee, in the early 1950s.

The area, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is perfect for apples—chilly winter temperatures, ideal summer weather and the perfect amount of rainfall. Willis turned the farm over to his twin sons, Harley and Merley, in the 1960s. They quickly found that running an apple orchard is a little like babysitting a fussy toddler. It’s hard work, and compared to growing other crops, it’s expensive, but the payback can be worth it.

In addition to tending to the existing trees, which can produce apples for more than 20 years, Harley and Merley planted new trees. Once a tree is planted, it needs to grow for four or five years before it bears fruit, and during that time, it needs lots of care. But in the early days, the Willis’ had time on their side. Harley and Merley, now 78 years old, still grow more than six different varieties of apples, and their Golden Delicious are the talk of Unicoi County.

The brothers see the same faces year after year, and by the end of November, the apples are sold out.

By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnam. Mass.


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