Gabe Olson-Jensen’s fascination with pomology -- the growing of fruit -- took root early and soon will result in an orchard at River Falls High School.
The Wisconsin FFA and the USDA recently awarded the sophomore $10,000 for his project “Implementing Organic Practices in Modern Apple Growing.”
In seventh grade, he became interested in fruit trees and contacted University of California-Riverside requesting information about citrus seedlings. He ended up being mentored by the citrus program director and learned the process of grafting.
At 14, he began working at Maple Leaf Orchard, a Pierce County farm near Spring Valley, where he credits the owners in teaching him much about apple farming practices. He then began research on his parents’ acreage, planting 75 apple tree rootstocks, grafting all to produce Honeycrisp apples.
When he entered high school, he became involved with the FFA and his interest in fruit research grew. He contacted several experts from around the nation, including professors from Cornell University, University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin-River Falls. All helped Olson-Jensen conduct research on the science behind growing high quality apple trees, according to RFHS.
Soon after collaborating with various universities, he wrote two grants and received $10,000 from the state FFA and USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organizations for a local project.
Olsen-Jensen has started a new apple orchard with the help of the River Falls FFA Alumni, River Falls High School student FFA, and friends and family. The alumni group cleared the River Falls School District-owned agriculture plot and ground is being prepared for apple tree plantings and related research. Research will focus on organic disease and pest control.
Plans for April include plowing ground and securing fencing. Trellises will be used rather than the traditional method, similar to grape growing. Growing apples with the trellis method will make apples easier to pick and trees easier prune, will ensure color quality, produce higher yield per acre and will result in more efficient use of property, space, and harvest options, according to Olson-Jensen.
On May 1, 130 trees will arrive and be planted. Wiring of trees and organic treatments will begin soon after.
In three to four years, he estimates the site will produce 1,400 pounds of apples. The fruit will be sold to the community to help fund the FFA and ensure the orchard’s sustainability for decades to come. Apples may also be donated to the River Falls Food Pantry and used in the school district lunch program.
“Clearly Gabe is ‘planting seeds’ not just for sharing the fruit of his labor, the district said, but also helping other students learn organic and precision farming practices as applied to the apple industry,” the district said in a news release.