A New Crop in Kentucky
Milton, Trimble County, Ky. July 20, 1859
When you and your readers sit down at your tables, take your newspaper in your hand, and eat freely of blackberries, in some one of the many shapes in which they come ready for the palate, or do you wonder where so many come from, or do you ever think that men of your own city invest, this year, in their purchase, at least $30,000?
Trimble County probably turns out more berries than any other place of its size in the world. Until this year, farmers have generally been accustomed to speak of the briers as “the farmer’s pest,” so little did they know of the ways of Providence, who, in giving them this unfailing crop, has put ready to hand, without toil of cultivation, a crop which this year brings them a larger income that would the same space of ground planted in wheat, at ninety cents per bushel. Walk from this town to Bedford, and even beyond to Palmyra, on the one side, or to Hall’s landing on the other, and so long as the limestone formation lasts, there the briers are raining with berries, bearing them down in all sorts of entanglements.
On the ten mile line, between this and Bedford, there are ten buyers; in Bedford there are two; at Palmyra three; beyond Bedford two, and in the vicinity of Hall’s landing one. There are a few others on the river, but these do no great amount of business. These buyers are the agents of interests in Cincinnati, who receive two dollars each per day, for receiving the berries and shipping them. Generally, these men are owners of brier patches of their own. They are authorized to pay at this time thirty cents per bucket, for all berries taken in; but at the commencement of the season, when the ripe berries were more scarce upon the bushes, as high as sixty cents was paid, and two days later, forty cents.
I will now explain the operations at one stand, which will show how the business is managed at all, then I will make up the figures to show the extent of the outlay.
The buyer, whose business I am going to explain, owns several patches of berries, one he reserves for the picking of his own family, all of which from the mother who is well nigh on to fifty years of age, down to the youngest child, are out in the field. Besides these, he has in other patches, their own and their neighbors, fourteen pickers. These start out at break of day and pick until about 10 o’clock, when, the sun being very hot, the berry does not stand so well as when picked during the cooler hours. Men, women, and children now shoulder their buckets; carry them to the receiver, who empties them into the stands, each drawer of which holds one bushel and one peck. The number of buckets are now set down to the pickers credit at the rate of thirty cents per bucket, and occasionally when a bucket of extra-sized berries are brought in, an additional five cents is added to its cost.
Wagons now come along and bring the stands to the river at this point, where each day, between one and five o’clock, there can be seen from a hundred to one hundred and fifty stands and half stands, equal to about 800 bushels of berries, which are daily shipped.
In the evening some picking is again done, the berries being brought in the following morning. On Friday evening and Saturday no picking is done, for the reason that the packet does not run on Saturday to your city.
I was present on Friday for the paying of the pickers at no less than three stands, and I found upon inquiry that the pickers collectively at each earned about $29 per diem. This yields from $1.20 to $2.50 to each picker as the result of their day’s exertions. One family received for the week’s picking $27 and over. Not bad wages for children to make.
Up toward Bedford the farmers have only this year got into the business, the consequence of which is that they are very liberal, and they allow the pickers to pluck the fruit and make no charge therefore, but down nearer this place, where every ripening berry is watched and plucked as soon as it is black, the pickers pay 5 cents per bucket to the owner of the patch, so that he has not only the profit made buy the picking of his own family, but the additional clear profit of about 15 cents per bushel on the berries, which, considering there has been no cost of cultivation, and that there is a surety on the crop, is not so bad. The season lasts from four to six weeks.
All the buying here, or nearly all of it, being for two or three firms in Cincinnati, I have been enabled to come pretty near the exact figures of the trade: There are in all 19 receivers at a cost of $2 per day; 273 pickers, averaging to receive $2.10 per day; 7 haulers, averaging to receive $1.50 per day; freight on 150 stands of 6 drawers per day, at $1, making daily outlay in cash, payable weekly of $780.50, or, for the season of its usual length, equal to $20,685, all of which is expended within the County, except about $4,000. Add to the total amount the occasional expenditures for premium buckets, and we have a total expenditure of about $25,000.
As reprinted in the New York Times, July 27, 1859, which acknowledges its source: “A correspondent to the Cincinnati Gazette gives an account of the harvest of the blackberry crop in Kentucky the present season.”