The pecan tree, a species of the hickory family, is a native American. It was introduced to settlers by the Algonquin Tribe and means “nut that needs a stone to crack.” According to the Virginia Farm Bureau, our 1200 acre pecan grove is not only the state’s largest, with over 500 trees, but also it’s oldest. The grove provides much more than a scenic backdrop, though it surely is that. It is also a popular place for weddings, art and science projects, and community events.
Saturday, the RBC Foundation hosted the first annual Spring in the Grove. This community day celebrated the greening of our historic and picturesque campus with close to five hundred folks enjoying perfect weather, face painting, photos with the Easter Bunny and the Eagle, an egg hunt, corn hole, water balloon toss, crepes with goat cheese, fresh fruit, and a chocolate drizzle (or hot dogs and fries!) and a fire truck from Prince George County. The Easter Bunny and the Statesman Eagle could be seen moving to the beats of the Army’s Battlefield Brass Band from Fort Lee (known as B3). This amazing group of soldier-musicians from the 392nd is composed of 10 members who belted out a bombastic horn line, tight rhythm section, and dynamic vocals – they were a real highlight. It was a beautiful and festive day. Thanks to the efforts of Jackie Bryan, Scott Davis, and Cheryl Collins for a great event!
Pecan trees can live and bear edible seeds for more than 300 years. The U.S. produces between 80% and 95% of the world’s pecans, with an annual crop of 150–200 thousand tons from more than 10 million trees. According to the US agriculture blog, pecan exports are growing at a record breaking pace. Both China and Turkey have recently developed an insatiable and totally unprecedented hunger for pecans, resulting in skyrocketing demand and giant leaps in price.
This confluence of events provides a great opportunity for Richard Bland College and our historic groves. As we look to diversify our income stream and expand our programs, harvesting these nuts can be a perfect reinvestment. Some of our peer institutions who specialize in agribusiness describe details of pecan production to include nutrition, pest and crop load management; soil science; harvest and post-harvest handling. We can add to that logistics, packaging, product design, marketing and promotion. We are investigating all of these angles.
Stewardship for these trees takes time, commitment, and training. But these aren’t just trees, they are a focal point for our campus community, a gathering place, a classroom, and a lab. Stay tuned as we develop new program models around our oldest living residents.