Classes for the newly formed Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program have begun and big things are already happening.
Eleanor Bingham Miller, owner of Harrod’s Creek Farm in Oldham County, pledged a gift of $450,000 in scholarships for international students in the Berry Farming Program over the next three years. The amount is the fourth-largest ever pledged to St. Catharine College.
“For Wendell Berry, as he is now moving into that phase of his life where a legacy is becoming important, I cannot imagine a more important and successful legacy than what he’s doing here with the college and the curriculum and with The Berry Center,” Bingham Miller said.
Bingham Miller understands the Berry philosophy, as she operates one of the largest farms in Oldham County by putting sustainable practices to use.
“The philosophy that’s guided every decision on the farm for the past 30 years has been to increase the percentage of topsoil and improve water quality, “ Bingham Miller said.
Over time, topsoil has increased by 2% and spring water has become potable, she said.
Bingham Miller toured the campus recently and had a discussion with St. Catharine College President William D. Huston, St. Catharine College trustee Lawrence H. Butterfield, Jr., Berry Farming Program Director Dr. Leah Bayens and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Dr. Rob Slocum.
The gift from Bingham Miller will fully fund three international students as they pursue a bachelor’s degree in the Berry program. Students receiving this award will begin classes in January 2014. They will study agroecology, plant and soil stewardship, community leadership and environmental arts and humanities.
“I think this is the program that’s going to really be drawing people in from all over the country and from all over the world,” Bingham Miller said. “The international component is important because we’re not alone in the United States. Everywhere in the whole world that does farming is being hit with the same issues: overuse of chemicals and toxic poisons, damage to the soil, damage to the water, damage to the air and damage to human health.”
“This contribution speaks to the urgent need locally and globally for bolstering community-minded, local market-oriented food production,” Bayens said. “This gift will help students from various geographic and cultural terrains learn how they can foster robust agricultural economies in their homeplaces. Likewise, their experiences will help American students understand the ecological, economic and social challenges farms face elsewhere.”
Butterfield called Bingham Miller’s gift the first three seeds planted by the Berry program.
“We have the curriculum in place; it’s cutting edge in every aspect. It’s the only program like this anywhere in the world,” Butterfield said.
Butterfield said the program was vetted by sustainable agriculture experts at the international Resettling of America Conference this past April.
Over time, he and Huston anticipate more pledges will be made towards scholarships in this program.
“Ms. Bingham Miller has agreed to assist the college in helping us cultivate others to support this initiative as well as the use of her farm in Oldham County as a lab and research site,” Huston said.
Butterfield stressed that students in the Berry program could come from various backgrounds.
“The expectation may be that it doesn’t have to be an 18-year-old student,” he said. “It could be somebody with some college experience or it could be a graduate that is intent upon taking the farming courses and then returning to their country to make a difference not only in the farming community, but to be a leader. That’s one of the things our college is known for: we turn out students that tend to become leaders. This program is sure designed to do that.”
Classes officially began at St. Catharine’s College and in the Berry program on August 12.
The Berry Farming Program was established in 2011 through St. Catharine College’s partnership with The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, founded by Mary Berry in 2011.
Founded in the Dominican tradition in 1931 and sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, St. Catharine College, a Catholic Dominican College inspired by its founders, welcomes all to the challenging pursuit of truth, preparing them to become critical thinkers, ethical leaders and engaged citizens.