Brief History of Gardening at Berea College
1869 – Berea College President Edward Henry Fairchild: “All possible pains will be taken to make expenses low, and to furnish the means of self-support. The college can furnish labor for a considerable number, others can find it among the inhabitants. Almost all who can show themselves competent and reliable can find all the work they can do.”
1871 – A garden was established, comprised of 1.5 acres, in conjunction with the Boarding Hall.
1881 – Fairchild: “Our students are engaged in making roads at Berea. They have never tried to run a farm. I have seen student efforts to run a farm, but they have never amounted to much. I do not think it can be made successful. I would not undertake to run a garden with students. I can make a good garden but I have never seen a student who could do it.”
1893 – According to Peck: Frost “spoke of the college farm with discouragement, saying that it was unreasonable for the College to buy vegetables in Cincinnati and yet rent out the College’s two hundred acres of farmland. The problem, he explained, was to put the college land into a proper state of cultivation and find a man of high qualifications to be the farmer, preferably a man from some state agricultural college. This college farmer would teach apprentices good farming practices and at the same time enable them to earn money for schooling.” (Peck, p. 115)
1895 – Ten acres of land were purchased from Charles Johnston to expand the garden in the area west of Scaffold Cane Road (Year Book of the Berea College Garden Department, 1915)
1897 – According to Peck, Frost “found a scientific agriculturalist able to handle class instruction and actual farming, Silas C. Mason, from the Kansas Agricultural College. Besides teaching College courses in forestry, he also cooperated with the farm foreman in such practical work as fencing, draining, gardening, fruit raising, cleaning the forest, and making roads, thereby furnishing instruction and employment to more than one hundred young men.” (Peck, p.115)
1899 – Frost writes to Dr. Fairchild from Boston: “I am beginning to be disappointed that the farm does not bring in more. Last year we sunk a good deal in it, but this year it ought to do better than it is doing in the way of production. The cold frames and gardens ought to succeed, whereas they have been less productive than before we had scientific direction!”
1901 – Professor Mason “insisted that what the uncompromising college land needed was drainage,” but President Frost felt that the cost was too great and that it must wait until the College could manufacture its own tile. (Peck, p. 118)
1915 – Francis Clark (Vocational Dean) in the Year Book of the Berea College Garden Department: “The rapid increase in our population, together with our present destructive methods of farming, is forcing upon us this intensive farming. The knowledge of these improved methods may be gained through the study of agricultural books, the reading of agricultural papers, the taking of agricultural courses, and the practical experiences on the soil. The careful observations of the workings of Nature under our immediate conditions is the most effective means of improving our profits and pleasures. The young men who work on our College Garden have a great opportunity to see what can be done by improved methods and the most important thing is that they learn the principles, so that they can put them into practice on their own farms.”
“It is certainly the desire of the Vocational Dean to not have any man work on the Garden who is interested only in his eight or ten cents per hour. One of the main objects of the Garden is to train young men how to practice proper methods of gardening and to show them how it is possible to feed a large number of people from a small acreage.”
1926 – A Bachelor of Science in Agriculture was available to fulfill the requirements of the Smith-Hughes Act as well as those of the Bachelor of Arts degree. Prior to this, agriculture was not listed as an option for college major (Peck)
1927 – Student employment by the farm included 25 students in fruit and vegetable production.
1928 - The horticultural component of the farm included 60 acres of vegetables and fruit, a cannery, greenhouse, cold frames, hot beds, and a nursery for producing landscape shrubs and flowers.
1938 – William J. Hutchins: “Our Department of Agriculture is staffed by men who believe that good farming is not the chief end of man, but that good farming plus music and art and religion, plus history, political science and literature, all may combine to make a rich and fruitful life for Americans.” The farm included 60 acres of gardens growing 32 different vegetables.
1942 – There was a push to increase food production in most of the College Farm’s enterprises. Some new projects were started (attempted) as well. A small apiary was established with difficulties attributed to inexperience and bad weather. At the suggestion of the Eli Lilly Company, experiments were initiated in belladonna production for medicinal purposes. And the College Farms grew 2.5 acres of hemp for seed. The hemp production was in cooperation with the Commodity Credit Corporation with the seed contracted at $8 per bushel.
1985– Horticulturist position was created in Facilities Management to take over “campus gardeners” from the Agriculture Department.
1990 – The College farms discontinued growing tobacco and sold its tobacco base
1998 – The horticultural component of the College Farms, referred to as the Gardens and Greenhouse, transitioned to organic management (certified by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture) and began composting food waste from the college food service.
1999 – The Gardens and Greenhouse began a community-supported agriculture program that ran until 2003. Shares included over 30 different vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers for 20-40 shareholders each year.
2005 – The Gardens and Greenhouse enterprises include the production and sales of salad greens, herbs, perennials, annuals, honey, and mushrooms. The greens are sold locally during the fall and spring through wholesale and retail marketing. The other products are sold through direct marketing with local delivery and seasonal farmers markets.
- Baird, William J. 1927. Annual Report (Agriculture), 1926-1927.
- Berea College Department of Agriculture. 1932. First Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture and Allied Schools.
- Berea College Department of Agriculture. 1938. Glimpses of Berea College, Pamphlet #5.
- Berea College Department of Agriculture. 1942. Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture of Berea College, 1942-42.
- Berea College Department of Agriculture. 1966. Farm Activities of Berea College, Observations and Projections, April, 1966. (report).
- Berea College Garden Department. 1915. Year Book of Berea College Garden Department. Volume One.
- Berea College School of Agriculture. 1914. Berea College School of Agriculture (pamphlet).
- Fairchild, Edward H. 1869. Presidential Inaugural Address, Berea College, Berea, KY.
- Flanery. William L. 1915. College Farm, Annual Report.
- Frost, William S. 1899. Letter to Dr. Fairchild. Feb. 7, Boston, MA.
- Glen Dandeneau. 2003. Personal communication. Berea, KY.
- Johnstone, Bob. 2003. Personal communication, Berea, KY.
- Monier, Howard B. undated letter. (Berea College Archives).