Kaylee Stallings of Murfreesboro is just thankful the grape vineyard at Lane Agri-Park in west Murfreesboro pales in comparison to what she and other MTSU Fermentation Science 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.
Grape Harvest Day featured Master Gardeners helping the general public harvest the fruit and demonstrating how to make jam and juice during the early-morning event.
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. An effort was finally formalized to invite everyone to experience the grape harvest, said Tony Johnston, director of the MTSU Fermentation Science program.
Johnston said the back side of Lane Agri-Park off John Rice Boulevard features 200 plants on about a half-acre -- 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."
To support Stallings, Johnston said there literally were tens of thousands of acres and square miles of vineyards in the area bounded by Frankfurt, Germany, Strasborg, France (Alsace region) and Basel, Switzerland, where the group studied abroad.
Connor Ball, 25, a junior from Savannah, Tennessee, who has been involved with the program since it began in 2017, said he "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."
Ball also was pleased his peers -- and he acknowledged "college students tend not to be morning people" -- showed up at 7 a.m. to help." (Maybe Donut Country doughnuts were an incentive.)
In addition to harvesting, Johnston and MTSU colleague and biology professor John DuBois used a crusher/stemmer to break the grape skins before removing them from the stems and a bladder press, used to extract juice from the fruit.
Participants could leave with the grapes they picked or have them stemmed/crushed and pressed into juice to take home.
Carla Bush, University of Tennessee Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent, and Master Food volunteers provided a jelly demonstration and even gave away small jars of peach jelly harvested in 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 anticipates a greater harvest, which will be open to the public.
Fermentation science has grown to more than 30 students in Year 2. The School of Agriculture is part of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.
BELOW: MTSU junior fermentation science student Connor Ball of Savannah, Tenn., uses pruners to clip off bundles of grapes Aug. 25 during the first Grape Harvest Day at Lane Agri-Park. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)