April showers not only brought May flowers this year in River Falls; they brought apple trees! Gabe Olson-Jensen, River Falls High School sophomore and active Future Farmers of America member (FFA), received a grant for $10,000 earlier this year. The funds were awarded by Wisconsin FFA and the United States Department of Agriculture for Olson-Jensen’s proposed project, “Implementing Organic Practices in Modern Apple Growing.”
With fencing in place, Olson-Jensen’s project took root, as 130 apple trees were recently planted. River Falls FFA alumni aided in the project by clearing the agriculture plot owned by the school district, in preparation for the trees.
On Saturday, everything will be seeded down, according to River Falls FFA advisor and high school teacher, Ryan Pechacek. “It's coming along really quick,” he said, giving credit to Olson-Jensen. “He's very, very motivated. He's a hard working kid. And when he puts his mind to something, it gets done.”
Though the initial stages of the project are making immense progress, the actual growing will take much longer: about three to four years for 1,400 pounds of apples to be produced.
Olson-Jensen started the grant writing process back in quarantine. Currently, he is taking a few college courses amongst his high school requirements. “It's interesting, you know, balancing all that,” he said.
As he maintains the orchard and conducts his own research, Olson-Jensen wants to share what he learns with local farmers in one of the premiere apple growing regions: the Midwest. His connections are already substantial, as he has worked with universities since he began high school, gathering knowledge and growing relationships with experts.
“The next thing is, once we get everything planted, we're going to invite everybody out to see what we have going on,” said Pechacek.