The Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College offers a tuition-free junior and senior year farming curriculum focused on ecological management of livestock, pasture, and forest using draft animals and other appropriately scaled mixed power systems.
Emily Wade is an enrolled student in the Wendell Berry Farming Program. She sat down with us to talk all things farming and provide us with a student perspective of what the education program is providing from the ground up.
What experiences brought you to Sterling and the Wendell Berry Farming Program? I began working at an American Saddlebred Show Horse Barn at the age of ten in exchange for riding lessons and show opportunities, which over the course of a decade would open the door for me to connect with and work under many of Kentucky’s top trainers and equine professionals. After completing my associate degree at Jefferson Community and Technical College, I transferred to the University of Louisville as a Biology major, but soon transitioned to Equine Business where I would act for three years as the vice president of the UofL Saddleseat Team, Officer of the Riding and Racing Club, and writer for the Hoofprints Equine Business School newsletter. While taking an academic break to expand my livestock work resume, I was fortunate enough to get involved with the Kentucky Goat Producers Association (KGPA) as a student in their Small Ruminant Profit School program, and the University of Tennessee’s Master Small Ruminant Producer certification program. After completing these programs, I was nominated to the board of directors for the KGPA, an opportunity that really broadened my exposure to livestock producers in our state, and the unique challenges and opportunities they face in this landscape. In 2018 I found employment as an artisanal cheesemaker with Capriole Goat Cheese in Greenville, Indiana, while embarking to learn more about dairy goat production. It was through my employment at Capriole that I learned about Sterling College and the Wendell Berry Farming Program, and was encouraged to apply.
How have you gotten involved with the WBFP or Sterling College? How have these experiences benefited you?
Being a member of the WBFP community has completely changed the scope of what I dreamed would be possible for my life. Instead of living in a place of “maybe” and “one day” and “hopefully” I now earnestly get to live in the land of “soon!” Aside from the academic education I have received through Sterling, I have received a far greater gift of personal wholeness and self actualization. The work I have done through this program, the people I have met, and the experiences offered have proven to me that my once farfetched dreams of farming and building something bigger within my community are tangible realities that I have full potential of actualizing. The “homecoming” I have found here extends not just to me but my family as well and has bettered all of our lives in an inexplicable way. The community of Henry County is, without question, my homeplace, and where I have always been meant to be.
As a member of the WBFP, I’ve been incorporated into a supportive community that sets me up with a foundation of knowledge that I would not otherwise have been able to experience this as a farmer learner, a new farmer.
What connections to faculty, fellow students, and neighbors has this program provided?
Having struggled in the past with more traditional academic systems, coming to the WBFP has been a sort of reckoning for me. My teachers, friends, neighbors, and students are all the same– there is no divide or structural hierarchy amongst them. For years I felt as though I simply wasn’t cut out for higher education– that it was a system meant for people “smarter” or “more capable” than I would ever be, and this thinking nearly led to the end of my pursuit in a “four year” degree all together. One of the most important and profound lessons I have learned in my time at Sterling is that my learning process and the work I do with my hands is just as critical and valid as any more traditional field of academic study. I have found a novel sense of purpose and self confidence that, without this program and the wonderful people in it, I don’t think I would have ever found in myself.
What skills and opportunities has your involvement with Work Program provided?
The WBFP has really helped me to see a lot of different types of farming systems, especially in Henry County. We see how they’re being utilized in this place, and we use a place-based experiential learning model that you can’t get just from reading it a book.
I’m being given these opportunities to see systems that I would have never encountered before and to work with people whom I would never have met. They bring me their experiences, and I bring mine to them. Together, we’re able to build our community into something more, something diverse, that works with the land and the people.
On an even smaller scale, the Work Program has not only taught me the importance of working together and helping your neighbors, but it has taught me a deep appreciation of the individual and how every single person plays a part in the whole. One of the greatest joys of the Work Program is seeing my fellow students get to demonstrate and teach their specific skill sets, or spending a hot day at harvest with friends and music and sitting back at the end of it enjoying the bounty. The work we do truly does bind us.
What does being an agrarian mean to you? Why is an agrarian outlook important?
For me, being an agrarian means fulfilling my purpose in life. It’s beyond a definition or idea, and even deeper is a creed. The agrarian mindset is fistfuls of dirt humming under your fingers and being pulled back down to the earth — mind, body and spirit — by a calling with the vastness of an ocean. It’s seeing the life and connectedness in even the most seemingly miniscule things around us and appreciating what role every part plays in a greater community. An agrarian mindset is one that applies to all facets of life.
What’s next for you?
My husband and I plan to move to Henry County with my family to start a sustainable farm based around ethical meat goat production. With an active history in community involvement and social justice issues, he and I are both soulfully dedicated to be tenants to a farm that supports our families, our environment, our community, and our homeplaces. We would like to see our food production and farm methods help alleviate the food apartheid within Louisville’s black and brown communities. We believe strongly that tackling food inequity is one of the major key stones to creating a more just and caring community for all people.