A Most Perfect Union: Vermont’s Sterling College Offering Future Farmers Tuition-Free College Education in Wendell Berry’s Henry County, Kentucky

The Wendell Berry Farming Program  of Vermont’s Sterling College (ranked #1 for food and dining three years in a row in Sierra’s Cool Schools rankings) based at The Berry Center in New Castle (Henry County), Kentucky, has received a $2.5 million grant from The NoVo Foundation, which shares the farming program’s vision of educating a next generation of farmers to farm sustainably and build prosperous rural communities and healthy regional economies in the words of Mary Berry, the executive director of The Berry Center founded in 2011. Mary Berry is the daughter of Wendell Berry, the distinguished farmer and writer, whose words are spotlighted in our mission statement: Every time you make a decision about food, you are farming by proxy, The Art of the Commonplace, edited by Norman Wirzba (Berkeley, CA, Counterpoint, 2002).

This financial recognition by The NoVo Foundation is wonderful news to start off the new year. And the foundation is also behind a $500,000 fundraising challenge for the Wendell Berry Farming Program, which we encourage our readers to support. No student in the program will pay tuition for the farming program.

Inspired by the lifework of Wendell Berry, the Wendell Berry Farming Program was designed in partnership with The Berry Center, to train graduates in the skills and resources necessary to practice ecologically mindful and economically viable agriculture on a human scale. With classes taught by Sterling College faculty, the program serves students who have a strong desire for an education that prepares them to come home to farm and build strong rural communities. Through their work, graduates of the program are expected to embody an ethic of environmental stewardship, and contribute to the revitalization and renewal of rural agrarian communities in Kentucky and beyond.

A two-year program, students earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Sterling College. According to information on the college’s website, admission is highly competitive. Only twelve students will be accepted for enrollment. Applicants must have a strong work ethic and demonstrate a desire to farm and a commitment to working to strengthen rural communities. In addition, applicants must have completed 60 college credits by August 25th, 2019, when the program begins.

Typically, admitted students will have a strong liberal arts and sciences academic background and demonstrated experience of work and community service.  While applicants must demonstrate a commitment to sustainable agriculture, there is no requirement the applicants have studied agriculture in their first two years of college. And applications from students who are residents of Kentucky are encouraged.

Review of applications will begin on April 1st, 2019, and first offers of admission will be shared with applicants on April 15th, 2019. Enrollment commitments will be expected by May 1st, 2019. Information on applying for admission is available on Sterling College’s website.

Included in the profile of Leah Bayens, Dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program, are three books recommended by Dean Bayens, including Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, reviewed on this website a few years ago, which in good part centers on the sad demise of a 500 acre Kentucky farm. It is inspiring news for the new year that the Wendell Berry Farming Program will provide the opportunity tuition-free for a dozen college students to become next generation farmers, who will see and appreciate a farm’s patterns and cycles of work, which permit all of its lives to flourish (in Wendell Berry’s words) and not ask of the land . . . all that it has in order to produce as many easy dollars as possible, in the way in which the family farm in Jayber Crow was exploited.

(Frank W. Barrie, 1/11/19)

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