Despite college closing, the Berry Farming Program will continue

We are very sorry to learn of the decision on July 1 to close Saint Catharine College, a school near Springfield, Kentucky that has been sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace since 1931.      

The announcement also means the St. Catharine College Berry Farming Program, launched in 2013 to offer two bachelor's degree programs in sustainable agriculture and rural leadership modeled on the teachings of author Wendell Berry, is searching for a new host university or college in Kentucky.

"The program will continue," said Berry's daughter, Mary Berry, on Wednesday. Berry's writing on farming has made him a moral authority among those concerned about climate change, the dwindling number of family farms, and healthy food and soil.

The degree program was founded by The Berry Center, a nonprofit institute located in Newcastle,  "to meet the urgent need for bolstering rural communities, small farm production and local markets."

In May, the first six graduates gained bachelor degrees from St. Catharine College in disciplines devoted to sustainable land use, plant and soil stewardship, rural community leadership and environmental arts and humanities, said Leah Bayens, chair of the Earth Studies department.

That leaves 19 undergraduates in the Berry Farming Program curriculum now facing abrupt transfer to other institutions, Bayens said.

Read more at Courier-Journal.

Concerning this closure and The Berry Farming Program, The Berry Center stated on Facebook,

We are deeply saddened by today’s announcement of the pending closure of St. Catharine College, a school located in the heart of the state and at the heart of the Washington County, Kentucky community. Though St. Catharine College is closing the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program will continue based upon the ideals that were established in its foundational years. John Turner, St. Catharine College Board of Trustees chairman, said that the closure comes as a result of decline in enrollment caused by the federal Department of Education’s admitted wrongful withholding of student aid on several key academic programs. He said further that the decline in enrollment has proven to be too difficult to manage with the debt obligation that has been assumed by the college in recent years. 

Mary Berry, Founder and Executive Director of The Berry Center, was moved to establish the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College when asked by faculty members and trustees how The Berry Center’s work fit with the four pillars of Dominican life. She thought that it was the right question and wanted to tie The Berry Center’s educational imperative to something established and sacred.

The first cohort of students enrolled in the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program graduated on May 14, 2016. These students provided an example of what The Berry Center hoped for – a mix of rural and urban students deeply rooted in their places devoted to life on the land. 

We would like to thank St. Catharine College and the Dominican Sisters of Peace for giving a home to our program and for their encouragement throughout its development. The Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program will continue based on the solid footing that we have achieved at St. Catharine College.


On Wendell Berry and Institutions

Institutionalization is neither fundamentally conservative nor liberatory; it depends entirely on the nature of the original concept and how it is established and maintained. To preserve the ethos driving ecological agrarianism, we must insist over and again that the complexities of “nature’s standard” not be simplified and that experience in and service to actual places not be supplanted by placebos. Failing these, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate the sort of affection necessary for the paradigm shift an ecological worldview entails.

In this light, I ask: What would it mean for ecological agrarianism to become the established custom? Institutionalizing ecological agrarian thought will mean making a fundamental shift in our minds and, thereby, our cultures. Compassion, collaboration, and respect must guide our actions. In other words, we will be guided by affection. We will be asked to see ourselves as absolutely placed in particular, rather than abstract, locations because a “mind so placed meets again and again the necessity for work to be good.” In this vein, Berry writes in “The Whole Horse”:

[T]he agrarian mind is less interested in abstract quantities than in particular qualities. It feels threatened and sickened when it hears people and creatures and places spoken of as labor, management, capital, and raw material. It is not at all impressed by the industrial legendry of gross national products, or of the numbers sold and dollars earned by gigantic corporations. It is interested—and forever fascinated—by questions leading toward the accomplishment of good work…. questions which cannot be answered in the abstract, and which yearn not toward quantity but toward elegance. Agrarianism can never become abstract because it has to be practiced in order to exist.

Read the whole article by Leah Bayens at The Whole Horse Project.

This is Part 2 of an essay by Leah Bayens. See Part 1 ("A Way of Thought Based on Land") HERE.


Reading Wendell Berry in the Classroom

A week ago we took up Berry’s “That Distant Land,” 25 or so short stories about the Port William “membership,” a life together in and around a small town on the banks of the Kentucky River. In their different ways the stories are each a window into the glory and the ruin of the human heart. The most remarkable, unexplainable kindness and honor and generosity, and the worst sort of indifference and malice and selfishness— all mixed up together, in your heart and mine.

Because of course, that is the gift of a good story– we see ourselves in it. We recognize the characters because they are like us, able to do good and able to do bad at the same time. But that is where the words “meant” and “supposed” and “ought” become problematic. Whose to say what is good and bad? A supposedly moral majority? Perhaps we protest loudly, “Good is just a social construction.” Or maybe it is only me and mine, because justice is only and ever “just us”?

I offer them Berry as a way into this conversation about complex things. I want them to read and reflect, addressing Walker Percy’s argument that “Bad books lie. They lie most of all about the human condition.” What do you see in Berry’s fiction that gives you eyes to see more clearly into the human condition? That is my question.

Read more at The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture.


Wendell Berry cited on Academic Community

Wendell Berry writes that there is “a kind of knowledge, inestimably valuable and probably indispensable, that comes out of common culture and that cannot be taught as a part of the formal curriculum of a school.” The kind of knowledge he is referring to is a knowledge of values and relationships: for instance, what makes us trustworthy people. Berry goes on to say that “This is the kind of knowledge, obviously, that is fundamental to the possibility of community life and to certain good possibilities in the characters of people” and finally asserts that “I don’t believe it can be taught and learned in the university” (What Are People For? 119).

Recently, some friends and I were talking on Facebook about the structure and purpose of the modern university, and I happened to mention Berry’s beliefs, at the time to suggest that we expect of modern universities what they cannot do: namely, train us to be whole and holy people.

Read more at Christ & University


Wendell Berry Farming Program featured on PBS

Wendell Berry, the 81-year-old award-winning poet, fiction writer and essayist, has continued throughout his life to care for the Kentucky farm that generations of his family have tended. Seeking to pass on their farming legacy to a new generation, Berry and his family have formed an alliance with Saint Catherine College, a small Catholic liberal arts college run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Correspondent Judy Valente talks with Mary Berry, Wendell Berry’s daughter, and with nuns, students, and faculty members at the college about the lessons and values that spring from having a spiritual kinship with the land.

View Judith Valente's report at Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly on PBS

Also HERE.


Essay explores Wendell Berry on Education and Violence

What Kentucky writer-farmer-thinker Wendell Berry thinks about agriculture is usually straightforward and clearly identified as such. What he thinks about culture sometimes has to be gleaned from his opinions on other topics. One topic of American culture that he takes on often in an oblique way is education, and his short story “Pray without Ceasing” (Fid, 1992) is a prime example. Many relevant themes of education play out in the story and how Berry tells it, but formal education is never mentioned—the closest we get is the appearance of Jack Beechum’s grade school teacher. Yet Berry himself cited this story as a way to gain insight into how education could better serve our world, and the story connects with his deepest hope for education. The story raises important questions about the relationship between formal education and violence, something Berry has called the “great moral issue of our time” (WI, 2005, p. 145), and the story suggests how education could do better.

To read Jane Schreck's entire essay (which opens as a pdf file), visit In Factis Pax


Meeting Wendell Berry

“I saw you at Actor’s Theatre last year with Gary Snyder,” I stammered. “Gary said the first thing we should teach all children is proper penmanship. I asked you about education? What we should teacher students in school?”

His eyes lifted as he finished signing the first book. More than anything else, his presence came off as comforting.

“I’m not sure what good it is to teach children the things we do,” he explained.

One of the most significant opportunities for growth in education, in my small mind anyway, lies in curriculum. Content. Standards. The what of learning seems more important than other more popular topics, like how and where. So of course I agreed.

“What good is any kind of knowledge without self-knowledge to shape it?” I responded.

“Absolutely right. You’ve got that right. Yes,” He agreed with enough enthusiasm to make me wonder if someone else had their hand in the back of my head and used my body like a Ventriloquist. Better introduce myself.

“Mr. Berry, my name is Terry Heick, and I’m a teacher. Your work has influenced me greatly. One of the things I do is take your ideas, and help contextualize them for other teachers. Or try anyway.”

“Well, I’m not sure I’ve had any ideas. These ideas aren’t mine. I got them from other people, who got them from other people. And so on.”

Read more about Terry Heick's encounter at Teach Thought


The Blessing of Homeplace Farm at St. Catharine College

St. Catharine, KY-- On Monday, October 19, St. Catharine College (SCC) hosted nearly seventy people from the community and college for a ceremony to bless and christen its new educational site for the Berry Farming Program (BFP): Homeplace Farm. 

The event featured a ceremony in which Sr. Mary Brigid Gregory and Jonah Hays Lucas (son of BFP professor Dr. Shawn Lucas) combined and scattered on the ground soils from the five Dominican Sisters of Peace farms and ecological education centers:

Heartland Farm (Pawnee Rock, KS)

Crystal Springs Earth Learning Center (Plainville, MA)

Crown Point Ecology Center (Bath, OH)

Shepherd's Corner Farm and Ecology Center (Blacklick, OH)

St. Catharine Farm (St. Catharine, KY). 

BFP students Hannah Spaulding and Sathya Govindasamy combined and sprinkled water from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and water from Cartwright Creek, which flows through the St. Catharine Farm. Additionally, New York State farmer and writer Kristin Kimball read the poem "A Vision" by Wendell Berry. Kimball was visiting SCC to speak about her memoir The Dirty Life , which was the common reader for SCC freshmen. Springfield resident Elaine Simms and the SCC Fine Arts Committee for hosted a beautiful reception after the ceremony.

Read more and watch video at St. Catharine College


A Seminar concerning Wendell Berry

From Manchester (UK) Metropolitan University:

“The scientific-industrial culture, founded nominally upon materialism, arrives at a sort of fundamentalist disdain for material reality. The living world is then treated as dead matter, the worth of which is determined exclusively by the market” (Berry 2015, p. 7).

This seminar explores connections between the work of American agrarian conservationist and author Wendell Berry and that of “new materialists” as they each seek to emphasize the living materiality of a vital and complex world. I will be particularly interested in outlining some of the major contributions of Berry, in particular the principles underlying what he has called “the Great Economy” as these form a foundation for a critical analysis of destructive neoliberal policies in education and more generally, and an outline for much needed “pedagogies of responsibility.”

Read more at Manchester Metropolitan University