Vermont Press Releases

Sterling College to launch farming program

News Release -- Sterling College
July 10, 2018

Katie Lavin
802.586.7711 x120
[email protected]

Sterling College Takes Steps to Launch The Wendell Berry Farming Program
College Awarded Grant to Offer Two Week Intensive Courses in Kentucky

July 10, 2018 • Craftsbury Common, VT and New Castle, KY • A vision of a different kind of agricultural education takes a step toward becoming a reality this summer when Sterling College begins to offer classes in Henry County, Kentucky, based on the lifework and writing of Wendell Berry. The College has been awarded a three-year grant totaling $156,000 to support the development of a series of field intensives that, as an extension of Sterling’s long-standing Field Studies program, will be the inaugural academic courses in The Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College.

“When The Berry Center welcomes students to Henry County, Kentucky in August for a course called ‘Good Work is Membership,’ it is tempting to call it a dream come true,” said Mary Berry, Director of The Berry Center and Sterling College trustee. The August 2018 intensive has already reached maximum enrollment with 12 students committed to the program. Enrollment for both Sterling and visiting students for the January 2019 intensive will open in October.

Sterling has been working for decades to change the American concept of education, with inspiration coming from the writing of Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Wendell Berry. Berry is a novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer. Published in 1977, Berry’s book, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture,” launched a national conversation about the state of agriculture in our society. The Berry Center was founded in 2011 to put Wendell Berry’s writing to work by advocating for farmers, land-conserving communities and healthy regional economies.

Sterling College, a liberal arts college focusing on environmental stewardship, was one of the very first colleges in the United States to offer a sustainable agriculture major and has had a campus farm since 1965. Sterling has a deep commitment to Berry’s idea that a college should make “succinct and tangible connections between education and communities and the land.” The mission alignment of these two organizations resulted in a recently formalized partnership and represents a chance for Sterling to leverage its resources and mission to scale out, without having to scale up.

“We are deeply grateful to the anonymous foundation that has provided support for our work. Like Sterling, they recognize that we need liberally educated farmers to strengthen rural communities. I believe the Wendell Berry Farming Program will represent the most radical change in agricultural education since the advent of the land grant universities and one that will address the failure of higher education to use nature as its measure in preparing the next generation of farmers,” said President Matthew Derr, Sterling’s 11th president, who is entering his seventh year leading the College.

Ultimately, the College is exploring development of a program in Kentucky with donors and foundations, designed for students in their junior and senior years of college, that leads to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Sterling College. With classes taught by Sterling faculty, this program will serve students who have a strong desire for an education that prepares them to come “home” to farm and build strong rural communities. Recognizing that student loan debt and access to land are barriers to new farmers, the fundraising initiative includes an endowment campaign that will allow students to attend for the cost of room and board only and offer low-interest loans to graduates to assist with the transition to farming.

“To upend the upward mobility major that has dominated our colleges and universities for decades with a program that teaches students to live well within limits is the most important work of our time,” said Mary Berry. “We must have people who understand good land use if we are to do the local work it will take to stop the collapse of rural communities and deal appropriately with climate change.”

This announcement comes at a time of enrollment and philanthropic success that the College has increasingly experienced over the past six years. Sterling College is presently celebrating its 60th year and has completed the most ambitious comprehensive campaign in its history as of June 30. The Nourish the Roots Campaign has raised $11.6 million in gifts and pledges.

For more information about the Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College, please visit

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