St. Catharine College | The Berry Farming Program

The First Steps

Dr. Leah Bayens

In November 2011, Mary Berry and I started a conversation about how we might translate her father’s lifework into education programs. We were driven then, as we are now, to move beyond simply repopulating  the countryside with people who “have no economic or cultural ties to the land and are not a community,” as Wendell cautioned over three decades ago (Unsettling 63). Rather, we want to encourage people to settle into the nooks and crannies and hollers of rural places with a commitment to using nature as the measure for their land use.

To start chipping away at this massive, hopeful, and (to our minds) worthy goal, we set our sights on learning within and outside the margins of formal education. With the faculty, staff, and sisters at St. Catharine, as well as with the help of community partners, we created an interdisciplinary, experiential learning-based, sustainability-oriented farming and agrarianism curriculum. This plan follows Wendell’s charge for us to “draw succinct and tangible connections between education and communities and the land” (Personal Interview).  Our Spring 2014 activities are geared toward doing just that, and March has seen us working hand-in-hand with our neighbors on a variety of projects.

The St. Catharine Motherhouse Farm, managed by Danny Ray Spalding, has afforded us the use of its new greenhouse. In exchange for space and supplies, Farming and Ecological Agrarianism (FEA) majors are propagating broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers for the motherhouse gardens. FEA 101 students helped seed, so students majoring in biology, criminal justice, math, and psychology dug their hands in the dirt.

FEA 101 students seed cool-weather crops for the St. Catharine Motherhouse gardens

FEA 101 students seed cool-weather crops for the St. Catharine Motherhouse gardens

The FEA majors are also using the greenhouse to raise a slate of warm-weather vegetables starts, which they’ll sell at the Springfield Green Festival this April to earn funds for a trip to The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival. Students will accumulate experiential learning credit for this combined community service and engagement work, and in the process, they’ll also learn about organic greenhouse production and marketing. Their learning objectives are listed at the end of this article. Though the greenhouse work is on campus, FEA students have been making strong connections in the broader community by participating in forums and service work. In mid-March, Sié Tioyé, Winifred Cheuvront, Sathya Govindasamy, and Lusekelo Nkuwi were special guests and contributors at New Pioneers for Sustainable Future’s spring members’ meeting, at which Mary Berry delivered a keynote address. And toward the end of the month, they joined a group of 3500 volunteers to plant 35,000 trees in Lebanon, Kentucky. In fact, over 100 SCC students, faculty, and staff dug in to plant 34 varieties of native Kentucky trees. It’s no wonder prospective students representing a variety of backgrounds have visited us this month. Here’s a glimpse at the profiles of our most recent recruitment prospects:

  • A senior FFA member from Bourbon County High School visited SCC with his father to discuss his interest in mid-size farm management. We talked about combining the FEA community leadership concentration with agroecology and management courses.
  • A college sophomore from New York State and her mother made the trek to SCC last week to talk seriously about the FEA agroecology degree track. She read Jayber Crow as a freshman and for the past two years has held an ongoing discussion with her family about pursuing an education that would help her expand beyond their kitchen gardening and hen-raising ventures.
  • A prospective non-traditional student from neighboring Boyle County, Kentucky, visited SCC to talk through using FEA’s community leadership concentration to transition away from the physically-demanding work of running an organic vegetable operation for a local restaurant and to move toward working with farms-to-schools initiatives.

The Berry Farming Program is growing at a rapid clip, so SCC just gave us the nod to hire a sustainable agriculture professor for Fall 2014. You can find the job description here. Please help us spread the word. We’re in the market for a terminally-degree candidate with specializations in organic and sustainable agriculture. Excellent candidates should be prepared to (1) assist the program director in designing field components for a campus farm; (2) implement courses in agroecology, plant and soil science, and food systems; (3) assist in the development of program goals; (4) advise students and contribute to recruitment efforts; and (5) work with the partnering organization, The Berry Center, to engage research activities that support mid-size and small-scale farm operations.  Applications accepted through May 15, 2015. We’re working on a tight deadline, but we know the right person will come into view.

FEA 275: Spring 2014 Greenhouse Project Learning Objectives Under the supervision of the Course Coordinator, students are trained in organic greenhouse production. They will understand and use best practices for:

  • Crop planning–by contributing to the creation of a cropping schedule and by recording crop conditions.
  • Seed germination and transplanting.
  • Irrigation, heating, and cooling equipment operation and maintenance.
  • Organic soil fertility maintenance and organic pest management.
  • Creating and implementing budgeting and marketing plans.
  • Tracking expenditures for seed, soil, fertilization, water, energy, & tools for all production projects.
  • Developing a fundraising plan for marketing at Springfield Green Festival.
  • Maintaining a schedule for seeding, irrigation, and maintenance and recording, analyzing, and reporting greenhouse conditions efficiently.
FEA majors, Mary Berry, and Leah Bayens at New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future's spring members' meeting

FEA majors, Mary Berry, and Leah Bayens at New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future’s spring members’ meeting


Check out Leah’s previous article, “Homeplace”.