By Alex Trihias, The Progress-Index
DINWIDDIE — The time for pecan harvesting has come for Richard Bland College of William & Mary and pecan fans alike. For two years now, the college has allowed people to come and collect the nut from their pecan grove, which is the largest and oldest in Virginia.
The college has close to 1,000 pecan trees with 425 newly planted in an effort to expand the groves on campus.
“We fertilized this grove here and the other one on the other side of Maze Hall,” said Eric Kondzielawa, Director of Property Management and Facilities at Richard Bland. “And the ones on the other side of Maze Hall rarely produced any pecans whatsoever. They actually have pecans this year and it has to be due to the fertilization, there’s no other rhyme or reason.”
The trees were 12-foot trees that came out of Texas and were planted in the winter time.
“People have been walking away with bags and buckets of pecans,” said Joanne Williams, Director of Communications at Richard Bland College. She said that she’s lived in the area for 30 years and has never seen so many people out in the groves.
People can go onto the campus and pick up pecans by hand, or they use a special stick that captures the whole pecan. Some bring leaf blowers or a rake to get leaves out of the way, making it easier to spot the nuts on the ground. Otherwise, they can be felt when stepped on. Many will spend hours in the grove and bring along a lawn chair and cooler.
“Some people, I guess, come do it and sell them to somebody who would want a locally grown product,” said Williams.
Williams recalled a time when she was in a downtown restaurant and noticed a woman come into the restaurant with a large bag of shelled pecans. She asked the woman where she got them.
“She said ‘Richard Bland’,” Williams said.
Apparently, the restaurant paid the woman premium price for the pecans.
Kondzielawa said that the college sells the pecans to a distributor in the shell. The college collects the pecans by using a golf cart with a large rotating brush attached to the back of it that picks up the nuts. The nuts are then sorted out from leaves and sticks, washed, and dried out.
“The money goes right back into the grove or to fund some of the kids’ scholarships or actually fund more work study students to pick more pecans so it gives them a part-time job while they’re going to school so they can make a few bucks,” said Kondzielawa. “I mean, who doesn’t want to drive around on a golf cart? That’s what everybody wants to do. Nobody wants to weed eat or mow or anything like that.”
Williams said that the long-term goal is to package shelled pecans, like praline pecans, under the Richard Bland name. Kondzielawa is currently looking into investing in a pecan sheller to shell the nuts.
“We’ll have the students involved and it’ll be from start to finish how a business is run,” said Williams. “They’ll see we’re harvesting and taking it all the way through to marketing. And that’s the goal.”
The newly grown trees will begin producing pecans in four to five years. Kondzielawa’s goal for Richard Bland is to start a pecan business that’s comparable to Virginia Diner’s peanut business.