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Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA plans orchard

JULIE BUNTJER/DAILY GLOBE Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA Advisor Brian Gottlob demonstrates tree grafting with FFA Chapter Treasurer Devin Ackerman. The FFA chapter plans to establish an orchard this spring near the high school in Sibley.

SIBLEY, Iowa — Members of the Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA Chapter are hoping the fruits of their labor will become a profitable endeavor as they embark on plans to establish an orchard on a small tract of land north of the high school in Sibley.

FFA Advisor Brian Gottlob, in his first year at the helm of the high school agriculture department, will lead his FFA members in a project to plant 53 apple trees, as well as pear and plum trees, early this spring.

The orchard idea came from a school board member and Gottlob, with an interest in horticulture and tree grafting, was eager to bring the vision to fruition.

“The school board was willing to support it, and I have the experience as well as the connections,” said the first-year teacher.

Helping to get the orchard idea off the ground is a $2,500 Be The Seed grant awarded by Pioneer through the nonprofit Iowa Food and Family organization. Sibley-Ocheyedan was one of a dozen FFA chapters across the state to receive a grant.

Chapters have a variety of plans for spending the money, such as creating a backpack program to send meals home with students for the weekend or hosting a famine banquet. The Clay Central-Everly Chapter plans a Feed the Nine Summit with workshops discussing the need to feed an estimated 9 billion world population by 2025.

Sibley-Ocheyedan is one of two grant recipients planning to establish an orchard. Each chapter’s progress on their project will be reevaluated, with the potential to be awarded an additional $5,000 grant during the Iowa FFA Convention this spring. Gottlob said he also applied for a $2,500 grant from the National FFA Foundation, about which he is still waiting to hear.

While Gottlob said the orchard plans are still in the early stages of discussion, the chapter plans to plant primarily Zestar and Honey Crisp apple varieties. The four-foot-tall trees — coming from Pennsylvania and Idaho — should produce fruit within two years.

While students will plant the trees and tend to them, Gottlob plans to incorporate the project into the classroom as well, from lesson plans on planting, pruning and tree grafting to pesticide use and pest management.

And it isn’t just agriculture, ag marketing and horticulture classes that will be able to learn from the orchard experience.

“If the biology department ever wanted to conduct an experiment, or family consumer sciences, they could,” Gottlob said. “(Fruit production) is still two years out. I’m most excited for the kids to get a chance to plan something long-term.

“Everyone’s got an apple tree at home, but how much do they know about it?” he added. “It will be neat to see if we can get the grafting to work; and if (the orchard) ends up not working out, the kids will still learn a lot through exposure.”

Gottlob said the grant dollars will cover the expenses of establishing the orchard, so the chapter isn’t spending any of the money raised in chapter fundraisers. The bulk of the grant will be spent on purchasing chain-link fence to surround the orchard.

If the FFA members have success with the trees and the process of grafting, Gottlob said they may be able to sell their apple crop locally and make a profit.

“We picked varieties that will be ready to be picked in August and September, when students are in class,” he said. “It’s amazing how much better these (homegrown) apples taste than what you buy in the store,”

Kelvin Vander Veen, a Sibley-Ocheyedan high school senior and FFA Officer-at-Large, may not be around as a student to see the sweet success hoped for with the orchard project in a couple of years, but he’s still eager to learn about what goes into fruit production.

“The big thing we’ve been learning is that we can graft all sorts of other trees onto a trunk, and from there you can grow the kind of fruit from the original plant,” he said. “We’re learning techniques on how to graft without killing the plant.”

Vander Veen is one of the FFA members who will help plant the fruit trees this spring. He plans to stop back in a couple of years to see how the orchard has progressed.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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