Grape-picking Mormons will descend on the denomination's 14 1/2-acre muscadine orchard in Denmark, S.C., this weekend to finish the fall harvest started last week.
About 500 men, women and children from Charleston, Savannah and the Augusta area took up the task.Grapes will be processed into juice and stored in Atlanta as a resource for needy families of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The food stuffs are also used for diaster relief.
The crop should yield between 12,000 and 14,000 gallons, or 2,000 to 4,000 more than last year, said Doug Welker, executive manager of the farm and a member of the Aiken congregation which the Mormons call a ward.
"The weather really had very little effect on us because we water them with an irrigation system," he said.
Needy families commonly perform manual labor such as roofing or pruning vines in exchange for food from the church's welfare program. "The church teaches self-sufficiency, but sometimes dads and moms lose their jobs," said Cary Tuckfield, another member of the Aiken Ward.He is also a counselor to the stake president. A stake is a group of wards in the Mormon church.
Families camp out on the farm during the harvest. Janna Lynes, 16, a junior who is homeschooled, wanted to go both weekends to be with her friends, said her mother, Mary Ann Lynes. "It's like a reunion," she said. The Lynes family also belongs to the Aiken Ward.Grapes have to be picked before they turn into raisins or start to ferment -- Mormons do not use alcohol, she said.
New vines are called babies and fruit-producing ones, teen-agers. "The teen-agers are so full of grapes, we are a little nervous about picking them all," said Mr. Tuckfield.