Talk to any group of young farmers, farm interns, kids with liberal arts degrees who are choosing to grow kale over 401(k)s, and the common denominator is likely to be Berry. He offers more than sharp cultural criticism, compelling novels and beautiful poetry; Berry makes readers want to change their lives. For many this is done by eating differently, following Berry’s insight that “eating… is inescapably an agricultural act.” His writing inspired the local food movement as people began to understand that the health of the environment depends on our decisions at mealtime.
For some, Berry is a religious figure. I once met a woman in a coffee shop who told me that Berry’s poem “The Wild Geese” was her religion, its closing lines offering a call to be present in our places:
…we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here.
And then there are those who, like my 22-year-old self, are drawn to radical responses. Those who consider a return to the land to farm it and care for it with all the virtues Berry works out in his writing. But how to begin, was this the right choice, and most importantly for one who lives by books—what to read? I needed guidance, and so I wrote to the one man I felt could give it: Wendell Berry.
Read the entire article by Ragan Sutterfield at WorldArk Magazine.
The Berry Center addresses topics such as land use, farm policy, local food infrastructure, urban education about farming, and general farmer education with the overarching aim of promoting a healthy and sustainable agriculture in this state and in this country.
In order to accomplish such a significant task, The Berry Center focuses its work around focused efforts that include programs and policies that protect local food producers in the marketplace; establishing a repository of papers, speeches and letters from three generations of Berry men on issues related to small-farm agriculture; organizing and participating in conferences with like-minded institutions that seek to work on problems and solutions for small farmers and rural communities; and preparing farmers and future generations of farmers to commit to small-farm agriculture through the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program.
Read it all at Kentucky for Kentucky.
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.
In this conversation, Leah Bayens, assistant professor at St. Catharine College, discusses the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program.
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.
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 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, 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
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