This semester I had room in my schedule to take a class outside of my majors just for fun, so I decided to take an Environmental Anthropology class in the hopes that I would get to learn about plants (one of my favorite things on Earth). I have been learning so much about our environment and how to farm in a way that is healthy for it, but my main focus lately has been on a seed saving project for class. Part of my project includes researching historical records of plant growth and crops on Berry’s campus. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Berry College Archives lately digging through books and reports and correspondence relating to the plants grown in the area since the Berry Schools’ beginning. Unfortunately, these documents that I’ve been searching are not part of the Martha Berry Digital Archives yet, but I thought I would share my findings anyway because I find them fascinating.
It turns out that there aren’t very many records of specific varieties of plants grown on campus, so I won’t be able to find seeds of the same varieties to grow now, but it has been really interesting to see some of the work Martha Berry did to increase the size of the gardens at Oak Hill as well as the gardens on campus. The most interesting thing to me so far has been the fruit orchard.
I’d seen letters before from Martha Berry asking different nurseries for different plants, like this one about White Moon vine, and I’d seen letters from people thanking Miss Berry for her peaches, but I’d never seen one talking about the orchard on Berry’s campus. During my research I came across a letter to Martha Berry from Mr. William Pitkin Jr. at The Rochester Nurseries in Rochester New York on May 27, 1940.
In the letter, Mr. Pitkin sends Miss Berry 100 peach trees in four “new varieties” along with a few hundred raspberry bushes, asparagus plants and apple trees in “excellent varieties.” He also gives her instructions on growing the peach trees, saying there had been in cold storage but should grow out fine.
When I read this, I thought 100 peach trees were a lot and that the Berry Schools must have had a lot of peaches to eat and sell, which must have been great. Then I read a letter to The Coe Manufacturing Company in Painesville, Ohio from Martha Berry. In the letter she asks the company if they have any damaged or old equipment they would be willing to donate to the Schools for packing boxes of peaches. I thought that was a little strange because surely with only 100 trees they wouldn’t need machinery to pack boxes of peaches, the students could just do it. Then the letter also casually mentioned that the Berry orchard had 2,000 apple trees and 7,000 peach trees! No wonder they needed help packing peaches!
I had no idea there was an orchard of that size on campus at one time. Moments like this are one of the reasons I love my job at MBDA. I am constantly discovering new things about the Berry Schools, Martha Berry, her friends, and the world in the early twentieth century. Few of the things I learn are monumental discoveries, but they’re exciting all the same because I have the opportunity to bring back to light a piece of information that many people have forgotten or never knew, which is part of what makes studying history so fun.