By Sherrie Norris
Golden Delicious. Red Delicious. Stayman-Winesap. Rome Beauties. These are just a few of the variety of apples that are already picked, boxed and available at one of the High Country’s family-owned apple orchards, where for hundreds of years some of the best apples have been produced. And, according to Nancy Moretz, who with her family is keeping a long-held family tradition alive, this year’s crop is the largest they’ve seen in many years.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have had favorable weather for growing apples,” she said. “We’ve not had too much cold, rain or winds around here like growers have had in other parts of the state. We’re blessed this year with an abundance of apples.”
And they’ve ripened a little later than usual, but it’s all in perfect timing as folks begin to make their way to the mountains to see the leaves in all their splendor — and yes, to buy these seasonal treats.
Keeping the legacy alive through five generations is a year-round effort for the family, and one that takes a lot of hard work and dedication to produce massive crops this time every year.
The Coffey family farm, better known as the Coffey Grounds, is located on Ridge Road, on a panoramic mountaintop north of Boone, and includes an orchard that attracts visitors young and old from far and wide.
Each year usually, beginning in mid-September and lasting through about the middle of October, the Coffey family members are hard at work in the orchard, picking apples, educating others about farm life, and in particular, growing apples, and greeting visitors who come in droves for their annual fall treat that lasts, for some, into the coming winter months.
Sisters Nancy Moretz, Judy Coffey and Jane Campbell, along with their brother, Kent Coffey, grew up on the family farm, learning everything there is to know about apples, trees, livestock and more.
Possessing a deep love for the land and for what it produces, the siblings have passed their knowledge and skills down the line to their children and, now, to their grandchildren.
It’s truly a family affair on the farm with the siblings and most of their children living on the land their ancestors settled in the late 1800s, on what was known then as the Old Buffalo Trail. Their heritage is important to them, including how the family matriarch came to the area in a covered wagon as a 4-year-old little girl in those pioneering days.
The Coffeys have been good to the land, and keep close to their upbringing as children of the late Walter and Cleo Coffey. They were taught that successful farming requires hard work and sacrifice. And they’ve never veered far from that foundation.
In the early years, Walter grew a variety of crops, including cabbage, tomatoes, beans, potatoes and apples, much of which he hauled off the mountain with a horse-drawn wagon. He even supplied most of the cabbage used by Ruth’s Salads of Charlotte.
Walter was one of the area’s first Christmas tree farmers in the early 1906s, another tradition carried on mainly by his daughter, Judy.
The family also grew tobacco, and Kent has kept the love for livestock alive with cattle and horses grazing contentedly over the ridge.
Today, a major family focus is the apple orchard, where a year-round operation annually produces 28 varieties of apples. One of the family’s favorites is the Coffey Seedling, which was first introduced by their great-grandfather decades ago.
Currently, apples continue to grow on about 307 trees that cover the orchard, at least four of which are thought to be “well over 100 years old,” said Moretz, who oversees the majority of the apple business with the help of family members.
In the last few years, several standard trees have been replaced with more than 100 smaller, dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, Moretz said, which are somewhat easier to maintain.
Most of the apples are sold on the farm, with faithful, longtime customers returning each year.
For nearly 40 years, scheduled tours took local school students through the orchard on a wagon, starting at the apple house where they learned about the life cycle of apples — from the planning of the trees to the pruning, clearing, spraying, grafting and actual picking, sorting, processing and storing the fruit. They also learned about “apple pests” and critters that love the fruit, including wild turkeys, raccoons and deer, and also heard about the importance of bee pollination.
The family has also always shared tidbits of local history during tours and recommended other points of interest in the area.
Visitors have also been easily captivated by the farm and especially the antique apple grinder/fruit polisher, which the family patriarch obtained from a South Carolina peach orchard in the ‘60s.“
We always tried to include information about farming, in general,” Moretz said, “not only about where their food comes from, but also about the origins of their clothing fibers and materials (wood) for their homes.”
The Coffeys have always appreciated and enjoyed receiving notes, letters, pictures and other memorabilia from their guests about how they enjoyed their visits.
Having been utilized consistently for more than 100 years, the Coffey family farm is one of a few in the area that has been designated a “Century Farm” by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
In 2010, the three sisters, Nancy, Judy and Jane, shared the “Women in Agriculture” award given annually by Watauga County’s Farm-City Banquet organizers.
Each of the Coffey siblings has other interests around the farm and community, but they all share a love for the land and all it produces. The orchard is located at 833 Ridge Road in Boone and is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 2-4 p.m. on Sundays.
To learn more about the Coffey family orchard and/or to purchase apples, call (828) 964-2645 or (828) 406-2930.