Berry Center Updates

Berry Center Update | August 2014

Katie Ellis

While meeting with Kate Dalton Boyer, a member of the Berry Center Board of Directors, I reflected on my upbringing on the farm.  My family’s after supper summer ritual was simple, yet telling.  Nearly each night we made our way back to the barn to work with the hogs that had been selected for the state fair.  Together my father, brother, grandfather, uncle, and I would take a pair of hogs out and begin to walk the perimeter of the farm.  We walked down the hill toward the garden, past the grapevines, alongside the tobacco patch, down to the mimosa tree that marked the property line, and back up the field that flanked the road.  This investment of time was important to our family and our livestock.  It strengthened our relationship, kept us attune to the work at hand, and created some of the best memories that I have of my upbringing.

Wendell Berry writes about farm rituals such as this one in his novel, Jayber Crow:


“Over a long time, the coming and passing of several generations, the old farm had settled into its patterns and cycles of work – its annual plowing moving from field to field; its animals arriving by birth or purchase, feeding and growing, thriving and departing. Its patterns and cycles were virtually the farm’s own understanding of what it was doing, of what it could do without diminishment. This order was not unintelligent or rigid. It tightened and slackened, shifted and changed in response to the markets and the weather.”


The foundational work that we are undertaking at The Berry Center may be viewed in the same manner.  We have spent a good deal of time this summer honing in on and articulating our work in preparation for strategic planning with our Board of Directors in September.  Much like a farm, we are finding our own understanding of what we’re doing and are coming into patterns and cycles of our work.  We look forward to sharing more about this process and our vision with each of you later this fall.

Other highlights of our work over the past month included:

  • Welcoming 11 Louisville FoodWorks interns from Middlebury College to the Center for a farm to table luncheon with Wendell Berry. Over the summer each of the students read Berry’s book, Bringing it to The Table, and worked at businesses and nonprofits that are strengthening the local food economy in the Louisville region.  We also said goodbye to Meridith Messier, who interned with us at The Berry Center and A Place on Earth CSA Farm in Henry County.  We’re so grateful for the meaningful contributions that Meridith made while with us this summer.
  • Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Harvest Showcase, the state’s only all-local agricultural celebration.  Tanya Smith, our office manager, made substantial contributions to the Showcase by designing a new website and ensuring restaurants participating in the event had access to meat and produce grown by farmers in Henry County.  We were pleased to welcome Louisville restaurants Sweet ‘N’ Savory and Taco Punk to this year’s showcase. Chefs have been essential to the restoration of linkages between farmers and urban consumers.  Read more about the Harvest Showcase in the Henry County Local.
  • Supporting farmers in the region seeking access to capital through KIVA Zip, a project that enables the public to become a lender by grouping small personal loans into 0% interest bundles.  Farmers who participate have six months to begin paying back the loan; lenders are repaid over 36 months.    Last month friends of the Center and many others helped back a loan to support Tabletop Gardens, a produce farm here in Henry County.  Loans like this one provide farmers with the necessary capital to make their farms more efficient and sustainable in the long-term.
  • Highlighting two more farmers in the region who are seeking funding through KIVA Zip.  Mike, with Healing Ground, is seeking funding to build a small scale milking and processing facility on his farm in Eastern Kentucky.  Earlier this summer Mike and his brother acquired the rights to a 126-acre organic farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with the assistance of Iroquois Valley Farms, a green investment group. Learn more about Mike’s work and help back his loan here.  Andre, with Barbour Farms, is seeking funding to secure a box truck necessary to scale up deliveries from his farm in Hart County, Kentucky to food insecure areas in Louisville.  Scaling up will benefit Louisville residents and will help support a good quality of life for Andre and his family.  Learn more about Andre, Barbour Farms, and help back his loan here.
  • Collaborating to host the 15th Anniversary Healthy Foods Local Farms Conference, Real Homeland Security:  Food, Health, and Community that will be held at Kentucky Country Day School on October 10-11, 2014.  This year’s conference will feature nationally known speakers who will address issues related to our fragmented local food economy.  We are eager to bring together many nationally recognized speakers such as Daphne Miller, MD (Physician and Author of Farmacology), Sister Claire McGowan (Founder of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future), Wendell Berry (Farmer, Activist, and Writer), and Will Harris (President of White Oak Pastures) to address these complex issues.  Purchase your tickets to the conference online here, Registration will begin Monday, August 18.


Berry Center Update | July 2014

Katie Ellis

This month marks the 15th Anniversary of the Annual Henry County Harvest Showcase. Each year the community comes together to celebrate its rich agricultural heritage, including local food, arts, and culture. We invite you to join us for this year’s event that will be held at the Henry County Fairgrounds on Saturday, July 26 from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm.

Farmers throughout the county will proudly showcase antique tractors and equipment and will partner with food vendors to supply local produce and meats for foods served at the event. Patrons can visit the petting barn, go on a hayride, watch nationally recognized duck herding and agility demonstrations put on by Turkey Run Farm, see horseshoeing demonstrations, and enjoy the Funky Chicken and Celebrity Milking Contests and more. Mark Twain is even scheduled to make an appearance throughout the afternoon. View a full schedule of events and get directions here. We hope to see you in Henry County on July 26th.


In other news:

John Edwards and Chris Wright, lifelong friends, farmers, and soon-to-be business owners will close on property in Henry County this week. Together they are building a small meat processing and retail facility that will provide an opportunity for more farmers to earn an income selling local food. The project has received tremendous support on the county and state levels. Edwards and Wright are pictured here updating Mary Berry and Sarah Fritschner (Louisville Farm to Table Program) on their progress. Read more about this project and its progress in the Henry County Local here.

We continue to plan for the 15th Annual Healthy Foods Local Farms Conference, Real Homeland Security: Food, Health, and Community, that will be held at Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, Kentucky on October 11-12, 2014. We’re pleased to announce that Will Harris (White Oak Pastures), one of the plenary speakers for the conference, was presented with the Growing Green Award for his outstanding leadership in sustainable food and agriculture last week. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Berkeley Food Institute in San Francisco present the Growing Green Award annually. Harris will join Wendell Berry, Daphne Miller, Daniel Tucker, Garrett Grady, and others as a plenary speaker during the conference. Register early to ensure your place!

Meridith Messier, our Louisville FoodWorks Intern, has reached the midpoint in her time with us. Meridith has been working closely with Michele Guthrie, The Berry Center Archivist, to catalogue and archive the Berry papers this summer. When Meridith is not at the Center, she’s gaining hands-on experience working at A Place on Earth CSA Farmhere in Henry County. Follow Meridith and the other Louisville FoodWorks interns on their blog.

Thank you for continuing to support us as we advance the Berry Family’s work in culture and agriculture. We encourage you to follow our work on Facebook and Twitter and to consider supporting our efforts with a donation or pledge. Together we will bring into focus issues of land use, farm policy, local food infrastructure, and farmer education that is lacking in Kentucky and the country as a whole.




Berry Center Update | June 2014

Katie Ellis


This week we are pleased to welcome our first Louisville FoodWorks intern to The Berry Center.  Meridith Messier, a student from Middlebury College, will spend the next eight weeks of her internship working with Michele Guthrie (Berry Center Archivist) and Carden Willis (A Place on Earth CSA Farm).  Her internship will provide both an immersion into agrarian thought and hands-on experience at a CSA Farm in Henry County.  Meridith joins ten other Middlebury College students who are participating in the Louisville FoodWorks internship program this summer.  Learn more about the interns and their experiences while in Louisville on their blog.

Other highlights from the past month include:

Mary Berry and Katie Ellis toured the Sustainable Food Alliance headquarters in Boone County, Kentucky in early May.  The Sustainable Food Alliance establishes contracts with farmers to grow local food in the region, then processes and distributes these value-added products in partnership with the Louisville Farm to Table Program.  This unique partnership allows farmers to spend more time farming while ensuring local food reaches consumers in the region.

Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder met as Distant Neighbors at the 2014 Festival of Faiths: Sacred Earth Sacred Self hosted by the Center for Interfaith Relations in Louisville on May 14.  Video footage of the event is available online here for those who were unable to attend in person.

The Berry Center is partnering with Louisville Metro and the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) to conduct a study that assesses what it will take for farmers to grow food for a local food system.  This study will compliment previous demand studies that indicate an unmet demand for local food in the greater Louisville area.

We continue to plan for the 15th Annual Healthy Foods Local Farms Conference that will be held at Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, Kentucky on October 11-12, 2014.  This year’s conference, Real Homeland Security, will feature keynote speakers including Wendell Berry and Will Harris.  Watch the conference Facebook page for announcements and registration information.  We hope that you can join us as we engage in this important dialogue.

Woody Tasch, Founder and Chairman of Slow Money, visited The Berry Center during a recent trip to Louisville to plan for the 2014 Slow Money Conference.  This year’s conference will bring together financiers, individual investors, farmers, food entrepreneurs, and other interested individuals at the Kentucky Center in Louisville on November 10-12, 2014.  The conference will include an Entrepreneur Showcase, highlighting entrepreneurs in four key areas:  (1) land, (2) processing and distribution, (3) livestock, and (4) urban agriculture.  Entrepreneurs interested in making their pitch and sharing their story during the conference are encouraged to apply to participate by Friday, July 25.  More information about the Entrepreneur Showcase, the conference agenda, and registration is available online.

Thank you for continuing to support us as we advance the Berry Family’s work in culture and agriculture.  We encourage you to follow our work on Facebook and Twitter and to consider supporting our efforts with a donation or pledge.  Together we will bring into focus issues of land use, farm policy, local food infrastructure, and farmer education that is lacking in Kentucky and the country as a whole.


Berry Center Updates From Executive Director,
Mary Berry

Mary Berry Smith - The Berry Center

Greetings from the Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky.  It was light when I got in the car to come to work this morning so even though it was fifteen degrees it feels like spring might be on the way. I’ve heard that this has been the coldest winter we have had in thirty years. Our office is in a beautiful old house that was built in 1828 and we have had frozen, and broken, pipes all over it. In fact, we just moved our archivist, Michele Guthrie’s, office from one side of the building to the other to get my grandfather’s and uncle’s papers out from under water pipes. We had a close call a couple of weeks ago when a pipe broke above her office and leaked through the ceiling and down on some papers and her scanner. She saved everything but we aren’t taking any more chances. My husband, Steve Smith, who has farmed all his life in the Little Kentucky River valley and who looks forward to winter like a you do when you’ve raised tobacco, vegetables for market and for a CSA, put in hay, and all the other work that comes with the growing season. He has been looking at seed catalogs with a good deal of enthusiasm, too. Of course, we know that this has been a hard winter for lots of people and we hope, if nothing else, spring will be sweeter for all of us because of it.

 Work started at the Berry Center something less than three years ago. We have gotten a good deal done in that amount of time considering that the Executive Director, me, had farmed for thirty years and had no idea how an office should run. Michele joined me almost immediately as archivist and pretty much everything else from office manager to housekeeper. My father says that often words fail to say adequately what we feel and that is certainly true when I try to express my gratitude to her for her partnership and friendship. Bonnie Cecil helped us as development director and worked through May of last year. Besides the organizational skills we badly needed she brought her great knowledge of agrarian issues and a long history of working with Community Farm Alliance. We miss her at the office but are very glad to have her serving on our board and her willingness to be the board secretary.  Tony Moreno worked with us for some months last year and was absolutely essential to the work of getting our conference, From Unsettling to Resettling: What will it take to Resettle America, organized and done.  My youngest daughter Tanya Smith joined us last summer.  She manages the office and is in charge of technology. I am very grateful to have lived a life that has allowed me to work with my children.  I have three daughters; the other two are Katie Smith Johnson and Virginia Smith Aguilar. We worked together milking cows, setting tobacco, picking vegetables for market, in hay fields, etc. I miss those days and it is some consolation to have Tanya here with me everyday often telling me what to do, which I guess is only fair.

 We have needed someone to step into the role of managing director and felt ready to actively pursue that person last fall. Our friend and board member Kate Dalton Boyer recommended John Guthrie to us and we launched a job search. With the help of Virginia Lee and Kate, John and I read a lot of very impressive resumes, interviewed candidates and in December hired Katie Ellis as out new managing director. Her biography is available on our website for our friends to have a look at. I will simply say that her presence here has made a profound change, for the better.  Katie does understand how an office should work and she has shaped us up quickly. She has allowed us all to get to our own work. But most importantly she understands what we are trying to do here. She was raised on a family farm in Boyle County and has a younger brother who wants to farm. To follow the example my family set for us we must keep our attention on solving our agricultural problems from a rural point of view.  To quote my father Wendell, “At every point in our food economy, present conditions remaining, we must expect to come to a time when  demand (for quantity or quality) going up will meet the culture coming down. The fact is that we have nearly destroyed American farming, and in the process have nearly destroyed our country.” Katie understands this because she grew up with it.

Because of Katie’s presence here I can promise our friends a monthly newsletter. Next month my column will be the first in a series about our work here at the center starting with protecting the farmer in the marketplace. In the meantime, Tanya will keep you up to date on our website and our facebook page.

Your friend,

Mary Berry