The Berry Farming Program

FarmingProgramThe Problem and the Opportunity

We must have more farmers.  We must have more farmers who understand how to build the soil.  It will be more difficult to build a population of good farmers than it has been to get rid of them.  We have lost much of the local culture that passes knowledge and land from one generation to another. We need to educate young and not-so-young farmers. But how should this be done? With only 16% of us living in rural places and of that percentage less than 1% actually farming it is imperative that we educate these students to go home to farm, or, dig in, make a home, and take up farming somewhere else.

The urgent need for more farmers is clear if the problems of conventional agriculture are acknowledged, and if the local food movement is to become a cultural change. The kind of change that stabilizes rural communities, builds soil, stops soil erosion, and deals correctly with climate change, food instability and the inequities of our current food system. The kind of change needed to stabilize urban communities as well.

After founding The Berry Center in 2011, the first project that we took up was The Berry Farming Program. We worked with Dr. Leah Bayens to design an interdisciplinary ecological agriculture curriculum.  We followed the lead of elders that we knew and trusted and established a program based on the lifework of Wendell Berry.  For more than 50 years he has been a leading voice nationally and internationally for land use that takes into consideration the land and the people. We heeded Berry’s call to upend the typical “upward mobility” major and established a major in “homecoming,” which, rather than leading students up and away, brings them down to earth and back to their homes.  In the fall of 2013 we launched the pilot program at St. Catharine College, a school established by the Dominican Sisters of Peace in Springfield, Kentucky, in 1931.

The first cohort of students enrolled in The Berry Farming Program graduated in May of 2016.  They have participated in dozens of agricultural conferences; they spent countless hours serving communities, and they had meaningful encounters with Wes Jackson, Vandana Shiva, and the Prince of Wales. They did pragmatic research in sustainable agriculture and had internships on farms in Kentucky, Australia, India and Tanzania.

Our interdisciplinary curriculum combines the four branches of learning:

  • Sustainable cultivation
  • Natural sciences
  • Environmental humanities
  • Rural leadership

It seamlessly links agroecology with agrarian history, environmental literature, gender studies, fine arts, and business.  These areas are blended so that a student farmer will learn to make decisions informed by literary representations of the land, and a student concentrating on environmental writing will have dug his or her hands in the dirt. The students learn that the devastation suffered by rural America is not inevitable; it is not the result of changing times or technological development; it is not the result of uncontrollable economic circumstances; it is a crisis by design.  This is empowering information for young people from rural Kentucky to rural India.

Work PlanCirriculum-group

“The Berry Farming Program curriculum should be in every college or university.”
– Wendell Berry

The Berry Center is seeking funds to continue to improve, broaden, and deepen the scope and use of The Berry Farming Program curriculum so that more students are exposed to the study of agriculture without the culture removed.

Funds will be used to solve the age-old problem of getting intelligence out of an institution and into the culture by:

  • Supporting a one year staff position at The Berry Center for The Berry Farming Program Director, during which time she will refine the program curriculum;
  • Visiting other institutions and what is left of land conserving communities to integrate the best practices of farmers and farm schools around the country into The Berry Farming Program and vice-versa; and
  • Conducting research into how to replicate The Berry Farming Program into other parts of the country and the world.

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 $270,000 to continue to improve, broaden, and deepen the scope and use of The Berry Farming Program curriculum so that more students are exposed to the study of agriculture without the culture removed.


Dr. Leah Bayens
The Berry Farming Program Director
The Berry Center
111 S. Main Street
P.O. Box 582
New Castle, KY 40050
Ph:  859-583-7796

Mary Berry
Executive Director
The Berry Center
111 S. Main Street
P.O. Box 582
New Castle, KY 40050
Ph:  502-845-9200