Kaylee Stallings of Murfreesboro says she’s just thankful the grape vineyard at Lane Agri-Park in west Murfreesboro pales in comparison to what she and other MTSU Fermentation Science Program students encountered during an Education Abroad trip to Germany in May.
Stallings, 20, and her classmates assisted with the first Grape Harvest Day Saturday, Aug. 25, when more than 50 people from the university and community harvested Cynthiana or Norton variety grapes for juice, jelly, and potentially wine.
Program director Dr. Tony Johnston and Rachel Painter, a University of Tennessee extension agent and coordinator for the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Master Gardener Program, coordinated the joint effort to involve MTSU faculty and students as well as community Master Gardeners and Master Food Volunteers to harvest, destem and crush the grapes.
The early morning event also involved a jelly-making demonstration to show participants how the freshly pressed grape juice could be used.
The vineyard was established in 2006 as a cooperative project between the MTSU School of Agriculture and the Rutherford County Agricultural Extension Office. For years, anyone could pick the sun-ripened grapes, but Johnston said organizers finally formalized an effort to invite everyone to experience the grape harvest,.
Johnston said the back side of Lane Agri-Park, located off John R. Rice Boulevard, features 200 plants on about a half-acre. That’s a far cry from “the sprawling hills of vineyards in Germany,” said Stallings, who is a double major in fermentation science and biochemistry.
“I’m so glad we don’t have to pick all that by hand,” she added.
Johnston said the study-abroad group was near the tens of thousands of acres and square miles of vineyards in the area bounded by Frankfurt, Germany; Strasborg, France, in the Alsace region; and Basel, Switzerland.
“I thought it (harvest) would be a lot more work-heavy. There was a great amount of people who came out early. This went very smoothly,” said Connor Ball, 25, a junior from Savannah, Tennessee, who has been involved with the program since it began in 2017.
Acknowledging that “college students tend not to be morning people,” Ball said he also was pleased his peers “showed up at 7 a.m. to help.” Perhaps the free doughnuts provided for the harvesters were an incentive.
In addition to harvesting, Johnston and his MTSU colleague, biology professor John DuBois, used a crusher/stemmer to break the grape skins before removing them from the stems and a bladder press to extract juice from the fruit.
Participants left with freshly pressed grape juice to take home.
Carla Bush, a University of Tennessee Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent, and some of the Master Food volunteers provided the jelly-making demonstration and gave away small jars of peach jelly harvested from the park orchard.
Johnston told the group to mark their calendars for Aug. 24, 2019 — the date for the second Grape Harvest Day at Lane Agri-Park. He said he anticipates an even greater harvest at next year’s event, which also will be open to the public.
The Fermentation Science Program has grown to more than 30 student majors in its second year. The School of Agriculture is part of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)