The junior and FFA member of Gervais High School delights the podcast interviewer with her knowledge of agriculture and entrepreneurial skills.
Matt Brechwald of Off-Farm-Income, a podcast on agriculture and entrepreneurship, had just been interviewing Dresen Ferschweiler when the junior and FFA member of Gervais High School turned the question upside down.
After describing where she lived and a little about farming in the area, Ferschweiler Brechwald was surprised when the interviewer from the Boise area pondered that he didn’t think he’d ever eaten a hazelnut.
“Really?” Ferschweiler said.
“Yes, but that’s a rabbit hole that we don’t have to go down now,” refused Brechwald.
Ferschweiler insisted, “Well, have you ever had Nutella?”
Brechwald: “I had Nutella, yes.”
Ferschweiler: “Then you ate hazelnuts.”
The aim of the interview was to learn more about the Gervais student’s entrepreneurship and to make cattle halters, which she has successfully sold to people from several states on Instagram (@sheep_halters). However, the first part of the interview was mainly about Ferschweiler educating people who lived in Idaho and who were born in central California about the care and harvesting of nuts.
Topics included pollination, pruning, orchard life expectancy, details of harvesting and harvesting machinery, different tree species – including the more disease-resistant trunks – and a little bit of the most economically efficient harvesting approaches to consider when choosing tree species.
In fact, if halfway through the conversation, Ferschweiler could easily be mistaken for an Ag expert from the OSU Extension Service, rather than a high school junior.
Brechwald: “Where you are over there in western Oregon, the climate is very different than here in Idaho. Do you have to irrigate there or can you grow those orchards and hazelnuts?” [on] all dry land? ”
Ferschweiler: “So it depends on who you’re talking to. Some of these newer strains need some water when they’re babies. I know people are planting new orchards, and OSU, Oregon State University, recommends different types too of irrigation systems.
“If you talked to my grandparents and dad, they still use some of the older varieties that are a little sicker (more susceptible); they are not as disease resistant. But they don’t take water; the old timers never watered their orchards. It was just a lot more work than it was worth.
“Now we have several techniques you can set up, like drip irrigation systems, and these newer varieties, which are more resistant to rot, are constantly being watered and producing either larger or more hazelnuts.”
That was 11 minutes after the interview, and Ferschweiler had a lot more to share.
“The entire podcast lasted almost an hour, and most of it wasn’t even about my holsters,” said Ferschweiler. “I think he did more than what he expected.”
When asked if she believed that her interviewer might have recognized the term hazelnut, another name for hazelnut, she said, “A marketing company told us you could name it hazelnut, but you get more money for a hazelnut.
“… Oregon actually produces 99% of the US hazelnuts and 5% of the world’s hazelnuts,” she added.
Brechwald told his respondents that they would easily be among the top 5% of FFA students he interviewed for their knowledge of agriculture and farming in their area.
About this halter
The interview and the podcast came about after Brechwald discovered Ferschweiler’s secondary entrepreneurial hobby and her FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE).
She informed him of the 23 adult sheep that she is currently tending and that were lambing at the time.
“Without this SAE experience, I really would not have gotten to the halter side,” said Ferschweiler, telling of her early middle school age, when she showed experiences.
“I used the holsters on feed and I didn’t know anything else,” she said. “There were just little things about them that I didn’t like.”
She discovered another type of halter that she liked much better, looked at it carefully, and realized that it wouldn’t be difficult to replicate. She bought the material – climbing rope – and did just that.
It was more than a replication as Ferschweiler made modifications that improved the holster’s performance and gave it a fancier look.
At some point she had made an abundance of them, and the hobby of making halters became an obsession. She sold some here and there. Finally, one FFA adviser said she should incorporate that obsession into her SAE project.
At some point, when the halters were noticed locally, they were selected as one of the few nationwide SAE projects to be displayed as awards at a national FFA congress. Ferschweiler was unable to attend the national event, but Canby FFA did participate and took their five demo halters with them.
They also proved popular there.
“From then on, people heard from them,” said Ferschweiler, adding that she had set up an Instagram account in which she could show them.
“Then they started contacting me on Instagram to ask, ‘How can we get this? Ship it? How do you order it? Do you have an online site?’ “I don’t currently have any online purchases. It just all went through Instagram, “she said.
Instagram trading was productive.
The Highland FFA in Arizona polled and marked their first out-of-state halter shipment.
“Since then, I’ve sold halters to … 11 different states across the country,” said Ferschweiler. “I’ve had several people from some states buying holsters, so I really only sold those holsters on Instagram.”
This sideline arose from Ferschweiler and made changes to other holsters so they would work better for them. Others also seem to find them more suitable. Now she said she doesn’t care about “ordinary halters” and prefers her own bespoke brand over everyone else.
Ferschweiler’s halters not only work well, they are affordable too.
She estimated a holster would take about 10 minutes and 15 minutes to make.
“If you want one of the plentiful supplies I’ve already made, that’s $ 7 each. If you want something very individual – which isn’t a problem at all, I love making these – that’s $ 8 U.S. dollar.” Ferschweiler shared. “If you can help me clean up this pile of rope I have here by ordering about five or more, we can start talking about discounts.”
Brechwald was impressed and wondered how Ferschweiler, as a seventh grader, viewed something critically and decided that it could be better, and did it that way.
“Combine that with the love and knowledge you have about farming … I’m really looking forward to you,” he said. “I’m very excited to see where you are going. It’s really cool – your story is very cool.”
Ferschweiler’s FFA advisor in Gervais, Megan Dilson, is also delighted with the ingenuity of her student.
“I am proud that she deserves national recognition for all of her hard work in the FFA and as a young aspiring entrepreneur,” said Dilson. “I’m glad she is following in her family’s footsteps to continue playing a role in agriculture. Knowing where your food, fiber, and fuel comes from in this new generation of techies is so important.”
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