Learning by Growing: Embracing Our Farming Roots
When Milton Hershey reflected on his time growing up on a farm, he had fond memories—and wanted the same wholesome upbringing for the boys at Hershey Industrial School, now known as Milton Hershey School.
Mr. Hershey felt that being with animals, working in the garden, and gathering nuts from trees was the best environment for students. In later years, he expressed the opinion that environment, rather than heredity, determined the measure of a man’s character.
Learn more about how farming and agriculture are rooted in MHS history and shape the school’s curriculum to this day.
A Well-Balanced Curriculum
When Milton and Catherine Hershey established The Deed of Trust in 1909, it reflected their beliefs and detailed the type of education their students should receive. Specifically, it says that students should “be instructed in the several branches of a sound education, agriculture, horticulture, gardening…”
Superintendent George Copenhaver agreed with Mr. Hershey’s views on education, and the two of them felt that the best way to learn was by doing.
The 1912 school catalog described “a comprehensive, well-balanced curriculum, including technical and practical instruction and training in modern methods of agriculture.”
A Rich Farming History
During the 1900s, each student was given a small plot of ground. They were taught to raise grain, vegetables, plants, and flowers under all kinds of conditions as well as irrigation techniques during dry farming conditions.
The school also was known for truck patch farming and brought in record-breaking potato crops. In 1933, the harvest included asparagus, string beans, carrots, 37,000 stalks of celery, corn, cherries, grapes, lettuce, onions, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes and more. The school canning department then came full circle and used the harvested produce to create sauerkraut, tomato juice, grape juice, apple butter, and jelly.
Strawberries, in particular, were Mr. Hershey’s favorite. Farmhome Englewood had 10 acres of strawberry fields and one experimental field. Mr. Hershey would visit the farm periodically, and during the first year of experimental berries, the crop was large and bountiful. Housefather Charlie Wolgemuth recalled that, “I picked out the biggest [strawberries] I could find … Jim [the farm boss] came out one day and I showed him that. He said, ‘Oh great, let me take that in and … give that to Mr. Hershey.’ He came back in the afternoon and said, ‘That wasn’t a good idea. Mr. Hershey said this is very nice but don’t you ever again pick out the best for me. That belongs to the community.’”
Mr. Hershey’s compassion for the community was passed on to the students at his school. In the 1940s, students had the day off from school once a year to pick apples in the Hershey Orchard. They also helped during the canning process by forming an assembly line and passing the heavy cans from the central kitchen to the storage areas. Alumni share they had a sense of pride for being useful.
Modern Agriculture and STEAM Curriculum
Just like the early years, today’s MHS students not only learn how things grow but they put their knowledge to practical use.
Fruits and vegetables grown by students during the summer are sold at Milton Hershey School’s STEAM Project Market—a year-round market open to the campus community and the public. It operates through an authentic, student-run business model, where students are involved in all facets of the market including marketing, profit margin analysis, customer service, inventory control and management, and entrepreneurial skills.
The method of teaching agriculture, horticulture, and gardening has changed throughout the years, but the priority remains the same: preparing students to lead fulfilling and productive lives and positioning them for success in whatever field they choose.
Milt Memories History Blog
MHS Department of School History works hard to preserve the Hersheys’ values and students’ cherished memories through articles, photos, interviews and artifacts. Follow along with our monthly blog series focused entirely on the fascinating school history and inspiring work of our founders.