Founder & Executive Director
The Berry Center Executive Director Mary Berry and her brother, Den Berry, were raised by their parents, Wendell and Tanya Berry, at Lanes Landing Farm in Henry County, Kentucky from the time she was six years old. She attended Henry County public schools and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1981. She farmed for a living in Henry County starting out in dairy farming, growing Burley tobacco, and later diversifying to organic vegetables, pastured poultry and grass fed beef.
Mary is married to Trimble County, Kentucky farmer, Steve Smith, who started the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming endeavor in the state of Kentucky. If daughters Katie Johnson, Virginia Aguilar and Tanya Smith choose to stay in Henry County, they will be the ninth generation of their family to live and farm there.
Mary currently serves on the Board of Directors of United Citizens Bank, in New Castle, Kentucky, and is on the board of directors of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She speaks all over the country as a proponent of agriculture of the middle, in defense of small farmers, and in the hope of restoring a culture and an economy that has been lost in rural America. Recently she has written a letter for inclusion in the book, “Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future” (Princeton Agricultural Press, 2016), and the introduction for a new edition of essays, “Our Sustainable Table”, Robert Clark, ed. (Counterpoint, 2017).
Managing Director, The Berry Center
Director, Home Place Meats – A Local Beef Initiative
Katie Ellis joined The Berry Center in 2014 as the Managing Director. In early 2017 she began establishing Home Place Meats, a cooperative for local livestock farmers to sell to local markets. Home Place Meats is creating a local food economy that is better for farmers, better for livestock, and better for the planet. Ellis is working on the economics of local beef production that and is establishing parity pricing for rose beef. Prior to joining The Berry Center Ellis served as the Sr. Program Officer for Community Engagement at a statewide foundation and coordinated a rural entrepreneurial leadership institute designed to help farmers diversify following the tobacco buyout. She earned an M.S. in Community and Leadership Development and a B.S. in Agricultural Communications from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Ellis was raised on a multi-generational hog and tobacco farm in Central Kentucky. Ellis now resides in Henry County, Kentucky.
Director, Agrarian Cultural Center and Bookstore
Virginia Aguilar was born and raised in Henry County, Kentucky. After graduating from Bellarmine University in 2007 with a degree in history, she became a founding faculty member at Louisville Classical Academy where she taught history, ancient languages, art, and served as middle school principal. After eight years of teaching, Virginia moved to The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky where she currently serves as director of the Agrarian Cultural Center and Bookstore at The Berry Center. Virginia and her husband Ben currently live in Louisville but intend to move back to their home place of Henry County.
Dr. Leah Bayens
Director and Dean, Berry Farming Program
Leah Bayens joined The Berry Center’s work in 2012 as the director of the Berry Farming Program. Through a partnership with St. Catharine College, she developed and coordinated a “major in homecoming,” a course of study that translates Wendell Berry’s visions for thriving farming communities into a hands-on, interdisciplinary undergraduate curriculum. Leah earned her doctorate in English from the University of Kentucky, and in her work for the Berry Farming Program, she calls on her research in 19th century American and environmental literature, ecological agrarianism, and cultural studies to teach courses in agrarian history and literature, community-based food systems, and a range of English classes. She also draws from her service to a number of central Kentucky nonprofit boards: Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, Boyle County Farmers’ Market, and Plowshares Farm Center for Education and Spirituality. In July 2016, Leah became a member of The Berry Center staff to discern the next home for the Berry Farming Program. She lives on family land near Danville, Kentucky, with her partner, Bruce Bryant, a cabinetmaker and part-time teacher.
Archivist, Archive at the Berry Center
Michele Guthrie grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, went to the University of Kentucky and graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1973. She moved to Louisville after graduation and taught in the Louisville City School System, later the Jefferson County Public Schools. She married Jim Guthrie in 1975 and soon afterwards they purchased the farm in Henry County near the Kentucky River where they have lived now for thirty-eight years. They have three children, Joe, Rosalie and Paige.
In 1994 she received her master’s degree from Spalding University in Louisville as a school library media specialist. She worked for the Carroll County Pubic Schools as a library media specialist, the Kentucky Department of Education as the Kentucky Education Technology System coordinator/consultant for Region 8, then for the Oldham County Public Schools as library media specialist at La Grange Elementary School until her retirement in 2011.
In the summer of 2011 she was hired by The Berry Center as an archivist and librarian to curate an agrarian collection of books and materials and to organize, catalog and preserve the records of the Berry Family particularly as pertains to their work in public service, culture and agriculture, and advocacy for farmers and land-conserving communities in our state and the country.
Office Manager, The Berry Center
Darra Smith joined The Berry Center’s work in 2015 as the office manager. Darra has over 20 years’ managerial and administrative experience. She spent 18 years serving as District Manager in the drinking water industry and has a strong water quality and customer service record. She and her husband, Tim Smith, live on their farm on the Little Kentucky River in Trimble County, Kentucky. They have two children, Casey and Kelly. Darra handles bookkeeping, invoicing and customer service. Please feel free to contact Darra anytime with questions or request.