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Sterling College expands program to Kentucky; offers two-year study in Wendell Berry Farming curriculum

Among an increase of college closures and mergers, Sterling College in Vermont is bucking the trend by expanding its campus to a second site in Kentucky.

After a competitive application process this spring, the first cohort of 12 students for the leading-edge Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College, inspired by iconic American poet, novelist, activist, farmer and Kentucky native Wendell Berry, will begin studies in Henry County in late August.

With courses like Agroecology and Landscape, Food and Culture, students will spend their junior and senior years learning ways to contribute to the revitalization and renewal of rural agrarian communities in Kentucky and beyond.

Sterling College in Vermont is bucking the national trend by expanding its campus to a second site in Kentucky, offering the leading-edge Wendell Berry Farming Program.

“The distinctive Wendell Berry Farming Program curriculum is designed to help people learn how to live with and from a place by understanding what has happened in and to its countryside,” said Dr. Leah Bayens, dean of the program. “This means studying entwined social, agricultural and ecological histories of how this land was and is used.”

More than half of the students in the program are from Kentucky, and all will receive a bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Sterling, a small four-year college whose mission is to advance ecological thinking and action. Thanks to a $3.5 million grant and challenge from the NoVo Foundation, the revolutionary no-tuition model helps support graduates to live and farm in rural communities without the burden of college debt.

“It’s hard to put into words what this opportunity means to me. It’s so much more than an education,” said Rachel Hampton, a Wendell Berry Farming Program student who manages a 50-acre farm with her family in Glencoe. “It’s someone looking at you, and saying, ‘I believe in you, I believe in your dreams and the things that you’ve been working toward and I want to help.’ The Wendell Berry Farming Program is the only way that I can learn hands-on how to be a better farmer.”

The program grew out of a partnership between Sterling College and The Berry Center in New Castle. While Sterling is located in rural Vermont, the Wendell Berry Farming Program is firmly rooted and located in Kentucky. The Kentucky field site is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, and the college is licensed to operate in Kentucky by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

“The program offers an unprecedented opportunity to learn from a specific community through our relationship with The Berry Center, a nonprofit, rural advocacy organization,” Bayens said. “Our students work side by side with neighbors and learn from and with the good farmers, foresters and rural leaders who make Henry County a worthy classroom. In turn, they’ll become the leaders who shape thriving landscapes and communities by growing healthy food.”

For more than 50 years, Sterling has focused on learning about and engaging with the natural world. Under a 10-year strategic initiative it announced this summer, the college — among the first in the country to divest from fossil fuels — will focus its programs on advancing ecological thinking and action.

Among the critical issues Sterling is now addressing is how the predominant agricultural practices threaten human and natural communities. In contrast, the Wendell Berry Farming Program will prepare a generation of farmers who understand how to build soil and build community — to re-make agriculture from one of the most destructive of human activities to one that is regenerative.

For more information about the Wendell Berry Farming Program, please visit https://sterlingcollege.edu/wendellberry/.

From Sterling College

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