From the Archives: Students Work to Put Food on the Table

A Look at JBU's Student Vocational Work

By Archives
6/28/2018 4:47:43 PM

During the years when JBU students were required to complete vocational work in order to graduate, the campus offered a large variety of work options. Some students worked in the printing press, the campus sawmill (which had the misfortune of repeatedly burning down), or even the laundry services. Like today, however, there were a number of students dedicated solely to satisfying the ever-hungry stomachs of the student body.  Students working in early JBU food service could fill a variety of production roles since the campus strove to be self-sufficient. For example, JBU farmers were responsible for producing the staples and vegetables that graced the dining hall tables.

At one point, JBU pastures and fields extended far beyond the borders of modern Siloam Springs to the properties surrounding NStudents E. Paul Smith, Lothie Sander, Jewell Taylor, and Helen Lowe work to preserve JBU crops in the school's outdoor canner, circa 1925. Empty cans are visible in the left background, while the foreground portrays the area where preserves were boiled as part of the preparation process. In the 1920s-1930s, the canning process took place in and around the Alumni Building, known to today's students as the Hyde Engineering Buildingew Life Ranch near Colcord, Oklahoma. Corn harvests, milking in the dairy barn, canning farm produce, and refining syrup in the sorghum mill were all parts of daily student life. The sorghum mill, located in the woods behind the John Brown high school, was an intriguing place even in the early 1930s. A visitor to the site would have immediately noticed a large stack of sorghum cane by the cane-mill. There, raw sugar cane was crushed between rollers to extract a pale greenish juice. 

The liquid was piped underground into the “evaporator,” a screen-enclosed building, and boiled in a copper vat over a roaring furnace. Inside the building, the steam was reputedly so thick that it was difficult to see the student workers as they moved the syrup through the evaporator’s troughs. At the end of the hour-long boiling process, the now golden, fragrant syrup was poured off into five-gallon cans and stored for winter. Working in the mill was difficult, particularly during the peak-processing week. Students could pull fourteen-hour days, producing up to 100 gallons of syrup.

In 1941, students refined over 650 gallons of syrup in a single week. Despite the difficulties, students were proud of their work, noting that “in the olden days,” JBU syrup was boiled in the open, subject to the assaults of grasshoppers, yellow jackets, and dirt, and had to skimmed before it could even be eaten.

The year of the sorghum mill’s demise remains unknown. Its use probably diminished in the 1940s, when JBU’s vocational production of food subsided. JBU farming persisted to a smaller degree until the agricultural division was cut from JBU’s curriculum in 1962. Though modern work-studies labor alongside campus food services, JBU no longer produces all its food needs.



This article is published courtesy of "The Lantern", the JBU archive newsletter. "The Lantern" is a nonprofit publication which seeks to education its readership about John Brown University's history and heritage.

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