Torrey Olsen runs Gabriel Farm, an Asian pear and apple orchard located in between the Northern California towns of Sebastopol and Forestville. In addition to organic apples and pears, the farm also cultivates persimmons, plums, pineapple guavas (or feijoas), and flowers. Owned and maintained by the Olsen family, Torrey lives with his wife and child in a nearby farmhouse.
Gabriel Farm’s primary source of energy comes from 56 solar panels on the property, which power the house, the cooler, the pump, the well — essentially everything on the farm. Before installing the panels, Torrey was paying a huge amount of money to the electrical company. Now, the farm’s energy source is clean and self-contained.
Although organic pears and apples may seem like a smart crop to grow on such fertile Sonoma County land, Torrey has seen more and more plots taken up by grape vines and the highly lucrative wine industry. Generally, the eastern side of Sonoma County has been considered the area for growing grapes, but wine has continued to spread west in recent years. Torrey finds this troubling, because this nutrient-rich soil and mild climate could be harnessed to grow nearly anything imaginable. When he consults with his farmer friends about this issue, they also see the shifting local economy not working in their favor, and joke that they “should be growing condos” instead of organic pears.
Although things may not be easy for the Olsen family’s business, Torrey has continued to reinvent and diversify Gabriel Farm in sustainable ways. In addition to the solar panels, he plans on bringing chickens, sheep, and potentially pigs onto the farm for the next season. Besides laying eggs, chicken manure makes for an excellent, all-natural fertilizer. Next, sheep mow the cover crops, which are planted to improve soil fertility and quality. This frees up Torrey to focus on more important aspects of crop cultivation, instead of using a diesel tractor to kick up dirt and mow the land less efficiently.
Torrey and his family have partnered with the FruitGuys to ensure that their organic apples, pears, and other delicious fruits get delivered to customers within a few days of picking. In addition, Torrey stays involved with Farm Trails, a local agricultural resource for Sonoma County that hosts seasonal farm tours and other events. The Olsen family invites you to visit the Gabriel Farm website for more information, and of course, to come pick some apples if you’re passing through Sonoma!