Sterling College and The Berry Center Announce Partnership

The Berry Farming Program of Sterling College will put Wendell Berry’s Writing to Work through Farmer and Ecology Education


August 18, 2017 • Craftsbury Common, VT and New Castle, KY • At an event marking the start of a yearlong celebration of the 60th year since the founding of Sterling, the College announced a partnership with The Berry Center through which it plans to begin offering undergraduate and continuing education programs in Kentucky in rural, placed-based ecology and farming starting in the fall of 2018.

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For generations, Sterling College faculty and students have been inspired by the work of Wendell Berry. 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. Berry is a novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. President Obama awarded Berry with the National Humanities Medal in 2010, and he was inducted as a fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, was founded in 2011 to put Wendell Berry’s writing to work by advocating for farmers, land-conserving communities, and healthy regional economies.

This educational partnership recognizes the relationship between the environmental stewardship mission and curriculum of Sterling College and that of The Berry Center. The College’s curriculum and focus on the the working rural landscape inspired the organizations to work together. “We recognize the critical role that higher education should play, but has utterly failed to play, in preparing students to develop sound and just rural economies. Sterling stood out immediately, as a college with values and a curriculum we wanted to help promote,” said Mary Berry, Executive Director of the Berry Center.


“At Sterling, we are aware of the crisis facing our relationship with the natural world and the threats to rural farming life in this country. The College provides a challenging, experiential, liberal arts approach to education that prepares our graduates to engage deeply in building strong rural communities and to live rewarding lives,” said Matthew Derr, President of Sterling College.”This partnership with the Berry Center will allow us to scale out, to expand the opportunities for students to experience an extraordinarily important educational model.”

In his essay “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear,” Berry pronounced the significance of this learning model: “The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. … Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible.”

The Berry Center was searching for a partnering school that lives by this edict. Dr. Leah Bayens, the Berry Farming Program’s Director, said, “We were looking for a college committed to agrarian thought and practice, a school whose culture hinges on affection for place, a school undergirded by the true roots of economy in ecology. After many months of focused searching, we are thrilled to have forged a relationship with a college that directly aligns with our values and visions.”

The Berry Center and Sterling College began the conversation about this collaboration in November 2016, and a public announcement about the design of the program is anticipated early next year. The program is planned to include undergraduate coursework for degree-seeking and visiting students from other colleges and universities in Kentucky, as well as continuing education opportunities like those offered at Sterling through its School of the New American Farmstead. Led by Sterling faculty, and consistent with its long standing place-based and experiential curricular model, the College will draw on the resources and expertise of The Berry Center and the natural and agricultural setting of Henry County, Kentucky. The program will be designed to serve students from generational farm families, rural communities, and urban agrarians from Kentucky and around the nation.


ABOUT STERLING COLLEGE Founded in 1958 in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, Sterling College is the leading voice in higher education for environmental stewardship and rural placed based education. The College was among the first colleges in the United States to focus on sustainability through academic majors in Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, and Outdoor Education. Sterling is home to the School of the New American Farmstead, is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and is one of only eight federally recognized Work Colleges in the nation.

ABOUT THE BERRY CENTER The Berry Center puts Wendell Berry’s writings to work by advocating for farmers, land conserving communities, and healthy regional economies. The Berry Center focuses on issues confronting small farming families in Kentucky and  around the country by encouraging study into where we have been, where we are, and where we are going in rural landscapes. By collecting and archiving the papers of the Berry family, the Center provides opportunities to study and work to learn from the past in order to shape the future with a focus on issues of land use, farm policy, local food infrastructure, and farmer education.


MEDIA CONTACTS Katie Lavin, Sterling College 802.586.7711 x111 •

Darra Smith, The Berry Center 502.845.9200  •

Keynote Conversation at NOFA-VT with Mary Berry

Check out the Keynote Conversation from the NOFA-VT Winter Conference where Mary Berry, Matthew Derr and John Elder spoke to the partnership between Sterling College and The Berry Center and the future of educating farmers.

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  • “I was drawn to Sterling because of the work program. I know that at the end of four years I will walk away from Sterling with a résumé full of work and life experiences that any employer would find of interest. Returning to a sense of place, community, and local resilience is the next step in the environmental movement. Sterling is at the forefront of this movement; a college education here trains you to be a leader through engaged practice in community living.”


  • “This small college is one of the most important places in this country. Any institution can announce its ideals; great ones live them out–in the curriculum, on the campus, and in the portfolio.”

    Bill McKibben

    Bill McKibben

    honorary Sterling alumnus, environmental activist, and author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy, and Oil and Honey

  • “In order to be stewards of the land, we need to understand our historical and current relationships to the natural world and each other. Sterling College courses and our community provide us with opportunities to explore these relationships, uncover the complexities of our natural world and society, and discuss the many environmental issues that we face today.”

    Farley Brown

    Farley Brown '85

    Faculty in Ecology

  • “Sterling taught me about a life that I had no idea existed. It also gave me the chance to understand myself and feel proud of who I am as a learner.”

    Vincent Wisniewski Profile Pic

    Vincent Wisniewski

    2011, B.A., Natural History Self-Designed Major, is a science educator for Alaska Geographic and he lives at Denali National Park.


You’ll  work one-on-one with our academic and practitioner faculty to delve deeper into issues of environmentalism, education and sustainability. In independent studies and research projects , you’ll design learning objectives and explore issues in a hands-on, experiential way.

Sterling offers’s 5 BA programs in Ecology, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems, Environmental Humanities and Outdoor Education, an opportunity to Self-Design your major and extensive continuing education programming through the School of the New American Farmstead.


Because we know that the most critical issues of our time involve our climate, soil, water, food, energy, and wilderness, Sterling offers environmentally focused bachelor’s degrees in only five areas—EcologyEnvironmental HumanitiesSustainable AgricultureSustainable Food Systems, and Outdoor Education—or a program you design yourself—to equip you for lives and careers that live up to your values.

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