The Berry Papers

berrypapers01The Problem and the Opportunity

Wendell Berry’s father, John M. Berry, Sr., lawyer and farmer devoted his life to advocating for small farmers and land-conserving economies.  Wendell Berry says that his father John Berry, Sr. did the important work while he and his brother just took it up.  The Berry Center has now taken up his work of putting in place an economy that will support good farming.  John M. Berry, Sr. was one of the principal authors of The Burley Tobacco Producer’s Program, a federal program that offered farmers essential protections in the marketplace for over 80 years.  He also served as the President of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative, the entity that managed the program for many of those years.  The Producer’s Program is the only farm program that has worked for the people it was intended to serve.

John M. Berry, Sr. was a meticulous record keeper.  The files from his law office and the cooperative offer an invaluable look into Kentucky’s agricultural history and provide a context to the sorts of conversations that occurred as he raised his sons John M. Berry, Jr., a farmer and lawyer, and Wendell Berry.  Despite their historic significance, these files were nearly lost.  They have been rescued from dumpsters across the state and it is difficult to know how many other files have been permanently destroyed.

We cannot risk losing the body of work and legacy of this influential family.  When viewed as a whole, the works of John M. Berry, Sr., John M. Berry, Jr. and Wendell Berry, offer compelling insights into rural economies that support good farming and land use.  These papers, accompanied by associated interviews, photographs, works of art, oral histories, and manuscripts depict both the art and science of agrarian life.  These historical pieces reflect a culture of good farming and land use that was prevalent throughout the state for many years, but is now nearly gone.  They must be preserved and shared with future generations.


Work Plan

To realize the goal of acquiring, preserving and making available to the public unique materials of enduring historic and research value, The Berry Center is seeking funding for the following bodies of work – Archives, Legacy Exhibits, and Publications.


One of the first tasks The Berry Center took on was to establish a library and archives dedicated to agrarian life.  The archives and library will preserve the foundational work of the Berry family and will serve as a repository of information to be used to study and advocate for small-farm agriculture in Kentucky and beyond.

published-worksEditions of all of Wendell Berry’s published works are
on display in The Berry Center Library and Archives.

Collections currently held in our library and archives include the:

  • John M. Berry, Sr. Papers: The Burley Tobacco Program, work with Georgetown College Alumni Association, Rotary International, the John C. Watts congressional campaign, secretary to the Senator from Kentucky, The Hon. Virgil Chapman. Contains the correspondence, notes, outlines, speeches, notes for speeches, speeches written for others, pamphlets, as well as personal memorabilia of John M. Berry, Sr.
  • John M. Berry, Jr. Collections: Papers from his years in the State Senate, as President of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, newspaper articles of the years in the state senate, and family records.
  • Tanya Amyx Berry Collection: Editions of all the published works of Wendell Berry, books about him and books in which he has an afterword, introduction or foreword. Foreign language editions of certain books. Special editions as well.
  • Wendell E. Berry Collection: Correspondence, drafts, interviews, editorials, speeches, articles by and about the author, and reviews.
  • The Berry Center Agrarian Library: Collection of books on the topics of agrarianism, farming, culture and agriculture.
  • Mary Berry Agricultural Library: Collection of books on agrarianism, culture, and farming.
  • F. Schumacher Lecture Series: A set of booklets, each containing the text of a lecture delivered by guest lecturers of the E. F. Schumacher Lecture Series, delivered annually, beginning in 1981 and continuing to the present day.
  • The Small Farm Journal Archive: A set of the quarterly journal published for small family farmers and farmers in the middle.  The collection includes all journals published between the winter of 1976 and the summer of 2014.
  • The Vandana Shiva Library: A gift from Vandana Shiva on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the publishing of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture and the conference, which celebrated the event.


In the future we will:

  • Provide a home for Wendell Berry’s comprehensive agricultural library; and
  • Compile and publish a bibliography of the books that are held within Wendell Berry’s personal collection so that the public understands that a man well known for his agrarian writings reads everything from biology to economics to English literature.

The Berry Center is seeking funding to make several physical and technological purchases to support the continued development of the library and archives, and make them accessible to historians, researchers, students, and agrarian leaders.

We will achieve this by:

Phase One
Establishing catalogs of holdings and publishing finding aids that provide an overview of the sorts of information held at The Berry Center.

Phase Two
Creating electronic copies of holdings that will ensure their preservation (short-term) and make it possible to publish holdings online, making them widely accessible (long-term).

Phase Three
Refining and delineating records of holdings, making them accessible for future research.

Ongoing Activities
Creating a physical space that ensures the safety and preservation of these works and is welcoming to researchers and guests.

The Berry Center is seeking funding to make several physical and technological purchases to support the continued development of the library and archives.  These acquisitions will support our Archivist’s efforts to preserve and share these irreplaceable works, create a functional and welcoming physical space for researchers and guests, develop a robust online presence, and prepare for the long-term acquisition and care of Wendell Berry’s agricultural library, manuscripts, and journals.

Legacy Exhibits

We will use The Berry Center’s physical space to complement the library and archives and visually depict the art and science of agriculture.  To this end, we will establish “legacy exhibits” that will include a handful of collections and acquisitions of photographs and artworks that are historically significant to the Berry family and rural life.  New legacy exhibits will be acquired on an annual basis and will be displayed alongside permanent legacy exhibits.

The Berry Center seeks funds to:

  • Purchase and exhibit James Baker Hall’s collection of photographs that were published in “Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy.”  These photographs depict the final tobacco harvest at Owen Flood’s farm in Henry County in 1974 and demonstrate the principles of community agriculture.  The Berry family is featured throughout the collection.  In the foreword to “Tobacco Harvest:  An Elegy,” Wendell Berry tells the story of the farmers in these photographs seeing them on display at an exhibit.  He writes, “Old tobacco men stood looking at them and wept.  It was as though across a long interval of time, a window had been opened through which we saw ourselves as we once were.”  This collection will be a permanent legacy exhibit.

baker-hall-example“In 1973 James Baker Hall photographed, with acute discernment, these scenes and events of a Kentucky tobacco harvest.  The place, the work, and the people are mirrored in these pictures as they were.  We look at them now with a sort of wonder, and with some regret realizing that while our work was going on, powerful forces were at play that would change the scene and make “history” of those lived days, which were enriched for us then by their resemblance to earlier days and to days that presumably were to follow… These pictures are excellent in themselves, as photographs, and also as a record.  They tell how a small company of friends harvested Owen Flood’s 1973 tobacco crop, but they also are reminders of the way people have worked together in all kinds of crops, in many places, for a long time.”

– Wendell Berry, Tobacco Harvest:  An Elegy

  • Exhibit Tanya Berry’s photographs of the processing of meat for and by their gathered neighbors in 1979. This gathering inspired Wendell Berry’s poem, “For the Hog Killing.”  The framed series of photographs will stand as an informational display of farm work, and a testimony to rural neighborliness and the dignity inherent in its customs.  A letter-pressed copy of “For the Hog Killing” will be on display alongside these original photographs.
  • Produce bound archival copies of scrapbooks detailing John M. Berry, Jr.’s distinguished career of public service in the Kentucky General Assembly from 1974-1981. Newspaper clippings saved by family members and personal anecdotes provide a comprehensive record of his tenacious service and advocacy for rural people.
  • Present a graphic depiction of the Producer’s Program published in the Courier-Journal Newspaper in 1997 juxtaposed with a graphic depiction of the modern-day iteration of the Producer’s Program formed by The Berry Center. This graphic depicts the economic impact of the Producer’s Program and reminds a public which has forgotten, of the efficacy of a farm program that supported diversified agriculture for over 80 years in our state.
  • Establish temporary legacy exhibits that illuminate the art and science of farming and rural life.


The Berry Center will publish items that are historically significant to this influential family and will inspire people to imagine ways to incorporate the cooperative ideal that supported good farming and land use into their communities.

The Berry Center seeks funds to:

  • Publish a textbook on agricultural cooperative history that builds upon “The Producer’s Program: Fifty Golden Years and More” and brings that book forward to the present day by reflecting on the post-tobacco era and The Berry Center’s modern-day iteration of the Producer’s Program; and
  • Provide support to researchers and writers who wish to publish a book detailing John M. Berry, Sr.’s lifework and influence on the path that brother John M. Berry, Jr. and Wendell Berry have pursued in support of small farm agriculture, rural people, and places.

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.


To realize the goal of acquiring, preserving and making available to the public unique materials of enduring historic and research value, The Berry Center is seeking $256,000 for the following bodies of work – Archives, Legacy Exhibits, and Publications.  Make a contribution toward this work online or by mail.


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

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