Indeed, there’s growing evidence that something big is afoot for improving upon the liberal-arts school’s already considerable academic reputation and well-known unique setting with boundless opportunity for anything thought up in the House of Dreams.
There’s a focusing of direction under way, perhaps not surprising now that the comparatively new president, Stephen R. Briggs, has gotten a good handle on the place. One senses it’s going to be the same old lovely but earthier ivy tower with, just as the many newer brick buildings that create a seamless appearance with the old, a lot of modernized elements echoing ancient themes.
The farmers market put on the other day by Berry’s Student Operated Enterprises, itself a newcomer, was remarkably successful. If this was an experiment it may well turn out to be the first of many on a more regular basis. While the prime sales feature — college produced Jersey milk and Angus beef — is naturally of limited supply it is not impossible to envision such events being held monthly, maybe eventually weekly, from May into October and/or a home-delivery business developing.
The huge lawn in front of the Ford Buildings was filled with tents, cars and browsing visitors — perhaps as many as 1,500; it’s hard to count over several come-and-go hours. The day was perfect, neither threatening nor sweltering, and the mood created by the park-like campus, the historic buildings and the live music lent itself to a quiet festival air — a sort of Woodstock for grownups since most of those there looked like they might have been hippies once with gray hair now.
THE BEEF SUPPLY sold out almost instantly, the milk almost as fast and had to be quickly resupplied from the Canton processor of the Berry herd’s bounty. Beneath the tents were 10 of the student enterprise operations, including the Berry Farms Beef/Jersey Milk/Organic Gardens ventures. The ability to rent (for alumni and “special friends”) the historic log-cabin cottages appeared to draw interest as well. Is Barnsley Gardens getting a rival? Another 25 or so vendors were from the “outside,” although the vicinity, with everything from home-grown veggies and herbs and flowers to home-made jams, jellies and jewelry. The crowd was buying, too.
There were the usual first-attempt hitches, of course, like the long line that formed for “lunch” — an Angus burger, chips and soda for $5. The sole grill, smaller than at most barbecue joints, couldn’t keep up with the demand and the line was due to folks having to wait for the burgers, a dozen at a time, to be delivered from the grill.
Still, the thought was more than passing that not only were there legitimate business opportunities in view — not to mention added jobs for a college that demands a work ethic from its students, who in turn use the income to help pay for their education — but reasons to consider more of the same. Berry, with its many available buildings, would have such an event rain or shine so it could always be expected to be held. If clouds are heard to rumble, just move inside to set up.
Perhaps a small retail store near the main entrance (because of the in/out traffic pattern) could ultimately appear to sell Berry-only products, catching tourists and similar as they pass on U.S. 27 as well.
IT’S INTERESTING how all this harkens back to Martha Berry’s original mission statement. When she founded the original Berry Schools in 1902 the seal stated the philosophy: “The Bible for prayer, the lamp for learning, the plow for labor, and the cabin for simplicity.” Times having changed a lot, hamburgers and milk aren’t exactly a “plow” and bed-and-breakfasts in the cabins for upscale guests isn’t exactly simplicity, but the underlying focus appears quite original.
Interestingly, all things “green” and “organic” are very much in vogue right now, particularly among the young. In looking at what’s already appearing one must wonder how having a very green and very huge campus might play into future educational directions as well.
Berry could easily put a 2,000-acre reservoir on its 26,000-acre campus not only for general community water reserves and recreation but also for fisheries and to support aquaculture, creating both new student jobs, new student businesses and new student majors. It could create fields of electricity-generating solar panels in the sunny South and, while the breezes are insufficient hereabouts for serious production, create a demonstration wind-turbine farm to help train the future’s “green engineers.” Darn few colleges/universities have similar environmental assets.
But mostly what Rufus Massey, assistant vice president of enterprise development at Berry College, called the “incredible” turnout drew the outsiders of olden days — the “townies” — onto the campus. Berry seems to want to end an ages-old image of isolation and become a more active part of the Greater Rome community — and for vice versa to happen.
This has been an evolving thing that now appears to be shifting into high gear. When Briggs recently offered Rome/Floyd land on the edge of River Farm for a new, 55-court, joint-operation Tennis Center he even said: “The health and vitality of our community and the quality of life here matter deeply to us. So we’re looking for ways to enhance our community.” When he said “our” he plainly didn’t mean Berry alone.
AMONG OTHER clear signs of a detailed plan are the new dorms to grow the student body, the additional sports fields (softball, lacrosse) and constant upgrades to key facilities.
Most intriguing, perhaps, is the switch to becoming an NCAA Division III school in athletics and leaving the NAIA. While this casts the long cross-town rivalry with Shorter College into a fog — their teams would no longer compete head to head in the same league and Division III colleges cannot offer athletic scholarships, nor can they play as many games per season. One wonders if pre-season and post-season “exhibition games” are possible, particularly if all proceeds from the considerable ticket sales the rivalry generates could go to a local cause — say the homeless shelter or free clinic.
There are hundreds of Division III schools, by the way, sharing not only size (500-10,000) but also an academic emphasis with sports no big deal ... well, not as big a deal as at UGA or even Shorter anyway. No matter how much most of us love and enjoy college sports, particularly football, it must be conceded that too often this is now the “minor leagues” for professional sports or the winnowing process for the next Olympic team. It also creates a dual standard with at least some students not there on brain merit but rather muscle power.
Clearly Berry has decided on recruiting brains over brawn and taking what is already a well-regarded college up to the select level. Not only does this shift free scholarship money up for more academically deserving scholars, it likely helps with another sort of recruiting: serious students with serious parents.
BERRY MAY BE seeking to ultimately become viewed as the South’s version, in slightly different form, of what has long been considered the nation’s No. 1 small residential college: Reed in Portland, Ore., which tends to be harder to get into than Harvard (and about as pricey). It, too, has no varsity sports (not even NCAA Division III) and is considered the place for intellectuals to go, particularly ones planning to pursue doctorates. It also emphasizes lifestyle, not party style, and building the leaders of the future.
Berry — and Rome — could certainly be known, educationally, for more ordinary and less intriguing things than may be in the process of evolving.
Note: The author, although having in the past several times taught at Berry, has no insider knowledge of any of this. He’s only reading tea leaves.