Homecoming I: Good Work Is Membership
Homecoming I: Good Work Is Membership is a two-week intensive, field-based course of the Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College (WBFP). It introduces students to the WBFP, The Berry Center (TBC), and its home place, Henry County, Kentucky. Students gain insight into the natural and cultural history of the area by exploring how good work leads to membership in place, or as Wendell Berry puts it, how “people are joined to the land by work” (“People, Land, and Community” 189).
Students practice good work through hands-on training with draft animals and naturalists in fields, forests, and watersheds in north-central Kentucky. In so doing—and by studying key texts by Berry and his friends, family, and colleagues—they learn about the history of draft, human, and ecological labor with the land. By examining entwined human and ecological histories of woods, pastures, and waterways, they will understand, as Berry has written, that the “health and fertility of each involves and is involved in the health and fertility of all” (191). By re-schooling a team of long-idle workhorses, students will literally learn how to revitalize good work practices for healthy rural communities. Ultimately, this course demonstrates how a draft-powered farm model requires particular patterns of diversity and scale. This model invigorates ecosystems-based agrarianism as well as localized economies and communal social networks.
The class also introduces students to The Berry Center’s efforts to make this vision of good work possible through its initiatives: the Archive, Home Place Meats co-operative, and the Agrarian Culture Center. As with the overarching WBFP curriculum, the course merges multiple disciplines through the lens of ecology: rural leadership, arts and humanities, economics, and natural and applied sciences. This ecology-centered approach applies nature’s measure as the standard for work across the disciplinary spectrum, just as it blurs disciplinary boundaries.