Tucked in the back of a 1.5-acre Tokay High School farm, 24 manzillo olive trees are helping to put the "future" in Future Farmers of America.
Agriculture teacher Matthew Bronson and FFA students Zac Cassebarth and Clayton Williamson started the project last year as a way to expand their farming skills.
And now the trees are growing in good health, and the students hope to make olive oil in the coming years.
Bronson said the FFA and agriculture program teaches students about all aspects of agriculture, and olive trees are a new trend in the Central Valley.
"This project reflects what is going on in the industry in Lodi, and when we harvest, we hope to use the crop," Bronson said.
But with money for extra curricular activities at an all-time low, Bronson and his students had to find a way to fund the project.
So, they started making phone calls.
Valley Vineyard Orchard Supply in Lodi donated supplies, and Williamson asked his father, who works for Sierra Cascade Nursery, for help as well.
"The nice thing about this project is that it didn't tie into the money issue," Cassebarth said. "It came straight from donations and our pockets."
Jan Kvitek, office manager at Valley Vineyard Orchard Supply, said her company finds the orchard an important teaching tool for the FFA program. "We've always promoted the vineyard industry in the past, and enjoy seeing young people take an interest in what people do here for a living," Kvitek said.
She said many vineyards in the Lodi area have added olive trees and are expecting to bring in extra income over a few years.
But the students at Tokay just want to have fun and learn about the crop.
"This was just a cool project to do for us," Williamson said. "I just hope the students after us can keep it up."
Yet, the orchard isn't without frustrations and trials.
The students were first told that water pipes didn't run under the area, but shortly after planting was completed, they were called and informed otherwise.
"We had just seriously put it all in and got the call that we had busted a pipe," Cassebarth said. "But it's OK, we got it figured out."
Both students plan on coming back after graduation to help with olive oil processing.
The trees are spaced 31/2 feet apart and about a foot tall. They will grow to roughly waist high and in about two years are expected to produce 15 to 25 pounds.
During the next year, students will continue building the trellis system, ultimately adding two more wires before their first harvests.
For now, the trellis consists of two tall end posts with thick wire stretched across about three inches from the ground. The trees, the size of small hedges, are attached to the wires each a few feet apart, and sprinklers are placed about every five feet.
Eventually, they hope to put in a drip irrigation system for better water usage.
And after harvest, they will have run an orchard from planting to bottling.
"This is really a project that can teach us about the process from the very beginning to the very end," Cassebarth said.
Contact Natalie Feulner at email@example.com.