The Pine Tree Apple Orchard, which supplies a large Twin Cities apple market, is celebrating 50 years. The Preston orchard’s grower, John Jacobson, is one of six siblings, each of whom runs a part of Pine Tree Orchard in White Bear Lake.   ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
The Pine Tree Apple Orchard, which supplies a large Twin Cities apple market, is celebrating 50 years. The Preston orchard’s grower, John Jacobson, is one of six siblings, each of whom runs a part of Pine Tree Orchard in White Bear Lake. ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
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For 50 years, Pine Tree Apple Orchard has produced bushels upon bushels of sweet, juicy apples. The apples have kept growing year after year, just like the family that owns them.

John Jacobson was 10 years old in 1963 when his late father, Arthur W. Jacobson, took over the property which used to be the Snyder-run Preston Nursery.

"I remember coming down here as a kid for several days at a time. There were a lot of big trees and a big barn that said 'Preston Nursery' on it," John said. "It was really cool."

The property at that time had trees on it that had been planted in 1895 by the Snyder family. Several of those trees still stand today. Their ability to grow and produce throughout the many years attracted Arthur.

Art, as he was also called, owned an orchard in White Bear Lake along Pine Tree Lake. He and his wife, Dickey, had moved near the orchard in 1950. Art began what John called the "work to own" program at the orchard, which was then owned by a man named Felix Isaacs. After eight years working for Felix, Art bought the 25-acre orchard and raised a family in addition to the apples.

Five years later, at a time when he was looking to minimize risk of future crop losses, Art visited the Preston Nursery site and found an ideal and fertile location to expand. It was unlikely, John explained, that major crop loss would occur at two separate locations. Plus, the most popular apple at that time, the Red Delicious, grew very well in the Preston microclimate.

During its 50 years of operation under the Pine Tree name, the Preston site has increased from 80 to 93 acres. The original acreage at the Pine Tree Lake site has expanded to 300 acres of apples, strawberries, pumpkins and a corn maze.

While the Preston site may be a smaller branch off from the original trunk, it has proven to be a valuable asset to the Jacobson family business.

Art and Dicky's six children, four girls and two boys, are all involved in the family business. John, the middle child, considers himself the "grower" of the family. Barb is the general manager, Bill is the strawberry grower, Nancy is the sales room manager, Jean works in the bakery and state fair stand, and Mary is the bakery manager.

"We've all worked well as a team together," explained John.

The natural chemistry found within their family as apple orchard enthusiasts has helped make them successful and Pine Tree one of the longest running apple orchards in the state.

They were named Family Business of the Year by Twin Cities Business Magazine in 2011.

"We still talk to each other," laughed John. "Everybody knows their place and has their own end of the operation that they take care of. It's worked out pretty well"

The family stays in the Pine Tree Lake location most of the year since most of the business is there. As the grower, John continues to visit the Preston orchards throughout the year to monitor the growth and the picking of the apples. Barring a bad year here and there, John said the apples have done really well in Preston.

"This is some of the best farming ground," he commented, noting how great the yields usually are. Another reason Art had bought the land in '63 was because he thought, "we wouldn't have to do a lot," John said.

With an already existing orchard, the Jacobsons just expanded and did some replanting and removing to maximize yields. The orchard quickly became a major supplier for the main orchard.

Even today, John estimates 98 percent of the apples grown in Preston hit the popular, and larger, apple market in the Twin Cities.

Once it was clear Pine Tree Apple Orchards could be established in Preston, they were there to stay. "Farmers are poor quitters and we weren't going to give up," John stated, smiling.

Even through the years where hail, drought, frost and other disasters threatened most of the crop, the apples just came back the next year. John recalled a severe freeze in the late '70s that wiped out all the apple buds.

More recently, the Jacobsons had to employ costly strategies to save their crop last year during the late winter. When the snow fell in April and May, John gave a map with a flight pattern to a hired helicopter pilot, who then flew over the orchards every 30 minutes. The rotors of the helicopter would drive the warm air down toward the trees, raising air and ground temperatures. Despite their best efforts, they did lose half of the crop in Preston. However, the strategy of having two locations worked as the Pine Tree Lake location made it through all right.

Surprisingly, in order to maximize yields, John said the trees should lose about 95 percent of the blossoms. There is such a thing as too many apples on a tree. Too many apples means the tree expends most of its energy growing the many apples instead of preparing for the buds the following year.

Throughout the 50 years of the Preston orchard, many growing practices have changed and improved. The orchards visible from the road show both the past and present ways to grow apples. One side of the driveway closest to County Road 17 shows large, widely spaced trees while the other side shows taller and slimmer trees held up by wires.

Across the 70 acres of apple orchards, apples are grown in these two manners. The latter example provides what John calls "more fruiting surface per acre." The trees held up by lines cannot stand on their own, but can be grown closer together. The upper orchard on a hill takes this efficient growing plan and packs it into 800-foot rows.

The variety of apples grown has also varied throughout the years. The days of the Red Delicious craze have passed and in their place have arrived the HoneyCrisp, Zestar and SweeTango. Pine Tree Orchards looks to the University of Minnesota apple breeding program which has played a huge role in spurring the Minnesota apple market. Minneapolis is the 15th largest apple market in the United States, while Minnesota actually is a net importer of apples. This means most of the apples Pine Tree Orchards produces are sold to local consumers. This has had as much of a strengthening effect on the Jacobson's relationship with consumers as with each other.

Despite the Preston location mostly supplying the John-called White Bear Lake "mother ship," people are always welcome to check out the Preston orchard. Value-added products such as apple pies, juices, jellies and other products are sold at both locations.

The business also reaches out to the local communities by donating to causes and running tours for schools and retirement homes. "We've always had a very strong commitment to that. The community supports us so we try to do our fair share," explained John.

The orchard will continue to produce as long as those who own it continue to find joy in taking care of it. "If you find a job that you love, you won't work a day in your life," said John, who can speak for his entire family. "I haven't worked a day in my life."