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Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program

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"Agrarian farmers see, accept, and live within their limits. They understand and agree to the proposition that there is 'this much and no more'......This is the understanding that induces thrift, family coherence, neighborliness, local economies." 

-Wendell Berry, "The Agrarian Standard" corn

The Berry Farming Program at St. Catharine College is founded on the lifework of activist, farmer, and writer Wendell Berry.  For more than fifty years, Berry has been a leading voice in the sustainable foods and farms movement - nationally and internationally.  In fiction, poetry, and essays, he urges readers to support small family farms and to use nature as measure in cultivation and land-use practices.  This counsel is as prescient today as it was thirty-five years ago when Berry published The Unsettling of America and outlined the environmental, social, and economic problems produced by industrial agriculture.

To meet the urgent need for bolstering rural communities, small farm production, and local markets , Mary Berry Smith, Executive Director of The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, sought a college with which the Berry family could further its commitment to improving farming through education.  St. Catharine College proved an ideal fit because of its devotion to land stewardship and community engagement.

bushThus, the Berry Center is collaborating with SCC to design an ecological agriculture program that will provide a "major in homecoming," as The Land Institute's Wes Jackson put it.  In Fall 2013, the Department of Earth Studies will launch a bachelor's degree and a minor in Sustainable Farming and Ecological Agrarianism.

The curriculum merges the sciences and arts, and in so doing, it follows Berry's adage that "disciplinary boundaries begin to lose their efficacy in truly interdisciplinary programs."  The College will also facilitate conversations between students and community partners through collaborative research, internships, and sustainability workshops for local producers and citizens.

This curriculum will help stem the tide of out-migration from rural areas, and it will, as Berry Smith has written, "solve the old problem of getting intelligence out of an institution and into the culture."  Indeed, the Berry Farming Program will encourage mutual knowledge as a means for fostering communities in which innovative, intellectually-curious, and environmentally-mindful residents can thrive.

Special Program Features:

Students in both the major and minor will complete the courses that combine four branches of learning: sustainable cultivation, natural sciences, environmental humanities, and rural leadership.  Coursework incorporates immersion experiences and community engagement through internships, fieldwork, service learning, and hands-on research.

Digging in the Dirt:

  • The farming branch will equip students with the skills and knowledge to grow sustainably-produced goods.
  • Students will take courses such as organic crop production, local and sustainable food systems, ethical issues in farming, biological pest management, microbial farming and composting, and animal husbandry.

Investigating the Flora and Fauna: pickles

  • The natural sciences branch schools students in ecosystem function through coursework covering ecology, botany, chemistry, entomology, plant morphology, crop pathology and physiology, soil science, genetics, and environmental sciences (e.g., resource conservation, forest and wildlife management, and renewable energy systems and design).

Producing Cultures:

  • The humanities branch integrates literature, history, sociology, psychology, gender and race studies, and social theory.
  • Classes will cover topics such as literature and landscapes, nature writing, environmental criticism, agricultural media, writing and activism, ecospirituality, environmental justice, environmental history, race and gender in agriculture, rural radicalism, landscape design, nature in the arts.

Tending Communities:

  • The rural leadership branch teaches students about fostering and maintaining robust communities.  This track draws on a variety of professional disciplines: community leadership, business and marketing, health and human sciences, sociology, and education, to name a few.
  • Coursework will cover topics such as livable and sustainable community planning and land use, local economies and small town trades, theories and practices of earth care, environmental ethics, direct marketing and economic development, nutrition and health of organic foods, and environmental education and literacy.

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 her hands in the dirt.

carrot in sinkVocational Outlook for Major

The Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program will produce farmers, writers, philosophers, geographers, sociologists, and advocates for sustainable living and earth stewardship in all walks of life.  Cross-disciplinary coursework will prepare students for vocations in:

  • sustainable farming, management, and marketing
  • sustainable community design and leadership
  • environmental writing and media studies
  • natural and social science research
  • agricultural education
  • food-related health and wellness

Meet the Instructors

The Berry Farming Program is in its nascent stages, but coordinator Dr. Leah Bayens is building a network of campus collaborators.  St. Catharine College faculty members from the Schools of Arts and Sciences, Health and Human Sciences, and Professional Studies are helping craft the degree and minor curricula.

Interested in the Berry Farming Program?

Contact Dr. Leah Bayens for information about enrolling in courses, teaching for the program, hosting student interns, or supporting the Berry Farming Program.

For more information: BA Community Leadership OR Environmental Arts & Humanities Concentration and BS Agroecology OR Plant & Soil Stewardship Concentration

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