By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Dec. 21, 2017 | 2:21 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – For some, the start of the fall season is marked by the changing of the leaves, breaking out a warm sweater, or enjoying their favorite warm beverage. For those living around the Richard Bland College complex, their season gets underway as pecans begin falling from the college’s sprawling groves, leading to the not-so-uncommon sight of people roaming the grounds to collect a batch of their own for delicious recipes.
But, over the past couple years and, more recently, the last few months, some in the community have expressed concern over perceived changes to the college’s policy regarding community access to the groves and some have taken those concerns to local and state leaders.
During the Prince George Board of Supervisors’ meeting in December, resident Indo Radant told supervisors that it was his understanding that the groves had been closed to the public to allow for the college to harvest the pecans and sell them.
Taking a picture of the signage fixed to the outside of the groves that says the area was closed for harvesting, Radant said the parking areas were also cordoned off in an effort to prevent people from parking and walking to the groves and collect their own pecans, adding that he was told by the college that they were selling the pecans.
“This was not a good move,” Radant said of the closure of the groves for harvest. “People have come to the groves for many years and suddenly they closed it up.”
Others have echoed Radant’s sentiments with some long-time Richard Bland College pecan foragers saying they have stopped going to the groves after the college began charging for collection.
In an interview, Richard Bland College Director of Communications Joanne Williams confirmed that they are charging for pecans and, in an October 9 news release ahead of the October 15 harvest, they said, “RBC students will be manning the groves and community pickers will be asked to support the College’s educational mission by contributing $2 per pound for pecans they pick” during the times of 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. daily through November 15.
According to the news release, those funds “will be used to support students and the pecan grove,” which are the largest and oldest in the Commonwealth.
After November 15, the groves would be closed to the public, the release continued.
“We started harvesting pecans in 2013 and, during that time, we have tractors out there to get some of the pecans that don’t fall,” Williams said. “The closure is for the safety of anyone in the pecan grove so that won’t be harmed by any equipment.”
Speaking to the concerns raised by the community and during the Prince George Board of Supervisors meeting regarding the college charging pickers, Williams said the $2 per pound contribution instituted this year was voluntary.
“Some people paid for them, some didn’t,” she said. “That was okay with us.”
Williams said, in 2013 when they began harvesting the pecans, two of the university’s business classes used the college’s natural on-campus resource to teach students about marketing and taking a product from the beginning to the end of its life cycle.
“We have a partnership with Good Earth Peanut Company, who are alums of Richard Bland College, who shell them and put a coating on some of them and we do sell them,” she said. “Do we advertise tremendously that we are selling? No, we don’t because, particularly this year, we didn’t have a great season. If it doesn’t rain at exactly the right time, the trees don’t produce as much. Last year, they produced a lot more.”
“All that money goes back into maintaining the groves and it goes into the foundation for student scholarships,” Williams continued.
During his comments to the board, Radant told supervisors that last year, the groves were roped off with tape during the harvest and this year, signage accompanied closed parking lots during the harvest period. When asked, Williams said part of the closure was in an effort to keep pickers away from tractors and equipment that may be roaming through the groves during the November harvest.
“Also during that time, when we had the Pecan Festival at the end of October, we also had the ‘Barn of Terror,’ and we had that for a couple of weekends,” she remarked. “So we fixed it so you can only go into one parking lot then because we didn’t want people going to the ‘Barn of Terror’ before the event but that was only for a couple of weekends.”
Williams said the college and its groves remain open to the public to stroll through and pick pecans.
“People are certainly welcome here,” she said. “We have a lot of people who just walk through the groves and all over the college and we want the community to feel part of Richard Bland College and that Richard Bland is part of the community.”