Problems and Opportunities
With the loss of Henry County’s local agricultural economy, a community once united across generations in common work and its shared language, is now isolated and divided. As a result, oral history, local traditions, and a sense of pride in home and place are being lost. This shared history, work, and language are characteristics of a unique agrarian culture worthy of preservation and revitalization.
The loss of this agrarian culture and a living knowledge of its values has led to practices that cause soil erosion, food instability, pollution that contributes to climate change, and abandonment of small towns. And every year, there are fewer who possess knowledge of local traditions, while young people have less incentive to return to their home places.
If this agrarian culture is to be conserved there is an urgent need to bring people together once again. A need for members of the community to share a common interest that allows dialogue, advocates for sustainable farming practices, encourages agrarian leadership and entrepreneurship, and extols the singular history of this place.
“If you’re going to be neighborly, you have to know your neighbors. You can’t be neighborly in a convocation of strangers.”
The Bookstore at The Berry Center, located in New Castle at the heart of Henry County, Kentucky, is seeking funding in order to start the Agrarian Literary League (A.L.L.) comprised of four age-specific reading and experiential learning programs: The Yearlings, ages 8-11; the Youth Agrarian Literary League, ages 12-15; The Berry Scholars, ages 16-18; and The Big Read, for adults.
Through a reading and experiential learning program called the Agrarian Literary League (A.L.L.), The Bookstore at the Berry Center has the opportunity to unite the community around a common culture. Each age group will have its own curated reading list of agrarian literature; a list of books that have influenced the life and work of Wendell Berry and that we believe are foundational to a thriving agricultural community.
These programs will operate with the objectives of facilitating discussions among residents of Henry County, fostering pride of place through a better understanding of local history and traditions, and promoting agrarian leadership. They will connect all participants with their agricultural heritage, foster cooperation and community, and develop a model that can be adopted by other rural communities throughout the country.
Materials and programming will be developed for each cohort that will promote dialogue within reading groups, call for authors and local authorities to speak with members, and highlight good farming practices within the county. These materials will then serve as a model for following years and can be adopted and modified by other rural communities across the nation.
The Bookstore at The Berry Center, because of its location in the county seat of New Castle, is uniquely situated geographically to serve all residents of Henry County. In addition to its own staff with backgrounds in education, library science, and farming, The Bookstore is able to draw on the knowledge and resources of experts at nearby Henry County High School, Henry County Public Library, the Henry County Extension Office, and local farmers.
Finally, The Bookstore at The Berry Center will provide a comfortable and inviting space within a 230-year-old cabin for people to gather while surrounded by a visual reminder of their history.
The Agrarian Literary League
The Bookstore at The Berry Center will host monthly meetings of The Agrarian Literary League (The Yearlings, ages 8-11, Youth Agrarian Literary League, ages 12-15, The Berry Scholars, ages 16-18, and The Big Read, for adults) and will:
- Form a programming committee
- Choose agrarian literature that will resonate with the people of Henry County
- Advertise community-wide youth and adult reading and experiential programs
- Provide a free book to each participant
- Craft educational materials and programs that relate to the featured books
- Cultivate confidence and skills in the area of agrarian leadership
- Foster pride of place and an understanding of agricultural heritage
- Offer a safe and comfortable place for gathering and discussion
- Partner with farmers, the local library, and high school
- Host kick-off events, monthly reader discussions, film screenings, and author readings
To realize the goal of presenting youth and adult reading and experiential reading programs to the citizens of Henry County, Kentucky, The Bookstore at The Berry Center will:
- Phase 1:
- Reach out to local educators, farmers, and others to form a programming committee
- Develop a reading list
- Plan a schedule of events through the year
- Phase 2:
- Contact authors and/or experts who can add to the discussion
- Write and bind necessary companion materials
- Advertise in schools, libraries, churches, Henry County Cooperative Extension
- Phase 3:
- Host kick-off events and distribute books
- Host discussions and activities
- Host wrap-up event with author reading, Q&A, activity with local expert, and meal
- Phase 4:
- Organize and maintain records for future use
- Make materials available to other rural communities that may wish to emulate the program
The A.L.L. will serve up to 400 participants in the first year with room for growth moving forward. By the end of the year, members of these programs will have taken part in monthly-guided discussions about works designed to encourage learning and reflection about their home. Funding in the amount of $245,000 is requested in order to: appropriately furnish a dedicated space for regular meetings within an historic building; employ staff and volunteers to write curricula and lead gatherings; provide books to members of the programs; produce and publish discussion guides that can serve as a model for similar programs in rural communities across the nation; take participants on tours of good practices around the county; bring authors, local authorities, and readers together to discuss the people and community of this region.
About The Berry Center
The Berry Center was started in 2011 to continue the agricultural work of John Berry, Sr. and his sons Wendell Berry and John Berry, Jr. John Berry, Sr. was a staunch advocate for small farmers and land conserving economies. His sons took up his work and have continued it. The Berry Center has now taken it up, and is focused on issues confronting small farming families in Kentucky and around the country. We are asking and trying to answer two of the most essential questions of our time; “What will it take for farmers to be able to afford to farm well?” and “How do we become a culture that will support good land use?” These questions are nowhere in the public discourse and yet the answers will go a long way in solving the most serious issues we now face. Our focus may shift because of need, but it will not move from what we believe to be the central issue of our time: the need for a healthy and sustainable agriculture in this country.
The Berry Center is seeking $245,000 of funding in order to start the Agrarian Literary League (A.L.L.) comprised of four age-specific reading and experiential learning programs: The Yearlings, ages 8-11; the Youth Agrarian Literary League, ages 12-15; The Berry Scholars, ages 16-18; and The Big Read, for adults. Make a contribution to support this work online or by mail.
Virginia Berry Aguilar
Bookstore Outreach Coordinator
The Bookstore at The Berry Center
129 S. Main Street
P.O. Box 582
New Castle, KY 40050