Apple orchard on campus comes to fruition

During the heat of summer, junior Laura Arce Vieyra carried large buckets of water to her apple trees, talking to them, telling them “good morning!” and asking how their day had been. 

These apple trees are on campus, a sustainability project she spent all summer taking care of.

History professor Cory Conover came up with the idea for an apple orchard during his last study abroad in Germany and Norway. A family he stayed with shared a vial of their own self-pressed apple cider.

According to the World Atlas, the U.S. is the second largest producer of apples in the world, but Conover said there are only two other apple orchards grown on college campuses in the U.S., making Augie’s new orchard practically one-of-a-kind in the nation.

Although Conover began the idea, Arce Vieyra carried it through. Every couple days she would carry the buckets of water back and forth because the sprinkler system hadn’t been set up yet.

Talking to her trees carried on a tradition that her grandmother started back in Mexico City. 

“My grandma, when she would water the plants, she would put music to them and sing to them,” Arce Vieyra said. “She had a beautiful garden, so it just stuck in the family that we would do the same thing.” 

Indeed, even though the apple trees shouldn’t bear fruit for another three or four years, they already had a couple apples by the end of the summer.

The apple orchard won’t provide much in the short term, but Conover said the long term benefits could leave a legacy for future Augustana students. 

“Plant them now, and if you take care of them, they’ll be bearing for 20 to 30 years,” he said. “It’ll be generations of apples that we’ll be able to provide for the Augie community”.

In addition, he says a lot of the apples we see on campus are from far away, but Augie soil and South Dakota climate can bear a variety of apples, which would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in food consumption on campus. Conover said people all across campus will have a “fabulous local product” to enjoy. 

They chose Zestars and Haralsons for eating: Haralsons being “an older heirloom variety that Minnesotans have loved for generations,” according to Conover, and a type of Golden Russet for the apple cider. 

Many technical challenges had to be overcome throughout the process of planting these trees, from preventing diseases like cedar rust to preventing rabbits from eating the tree bark — a violence to which one tree fell prey. 

They also made sure to plant the trees on a southern-facing hill to protect against the northern winds, which now allows students to look at the trees on their way to and from classes.

From the business department to the chemistry and biology departments, many different areas across campus have come together to let this orchard thrive. 

For the future, Conover said the Augustana community looks toward accessing processing equipment for the cider, collecting apples from the houses around Augie, collaborating with the Augie garden, selling cider to students at events like homecoming and even allowing people to press their own apple cider for a price.

On a Saturday during the early months of the pandemic a few professors came to campus to plant apple trees with masks on, around a month after all the students went home. 

Looking back on the experience, Conover said, “Everybody should plant a tree at least once in their life, just to be able to say ‘I left this world a little better than I found it.’ 

Arce Vieyra agrees with this sentiment, saying, “planting a tree is leaving a legacy.” 

She’s felt that the orchard has been her way to give back to the Augustana community, and the hard work has made her proud watching her project grow.

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