Wendell Berry Farm Program Horses
Credit: Sterling College

Farming has been a part of Southern life since the first time a cotton seed or peanut fell into the rich soil. However, as the world has grown and modernized and the work landscape has changed, fewer Southerners are seeing farming as a career choice. A new program in Kentucky is working to change that one farmer at a time—and the program is tuition free.

The Wendell Berry Farming Program, inspired by the life of writer, conservationist, and farmer Wendell Berry, teaches would-be farmers the ropes of running an agricultural enterprise in this modern world. Classes include subjects like Agroecology, Holistic Livestock Husbandry, U.S. Farm and Food Policy, and Draft Animal Power Systems—all things farmers need to know to raise food on a productive farm and all things that Berry preached and practiced.

The two-year program was created back in 2012, by Berry's daughter, Mary Berry, who also founded The Berry Center. For years, the program ran out of St. Catharine College in Springfield, Kentucky, but when the college unexpectedly closed, the farming program went looking for a new home. It found one at Sterling College in Vermont, although coursework will be held in Kentucky's Henry County where the Berry family has deep roots. "My mother (Tanya Berry) always said the Berry Farming program should be in Henry County," Mary Berry told As part of the curriculum, students then apply what they learn in the classroom by working on a farm, taking everything they learned at school in the real-world environment. Students who finish the program will receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in sustainable agriculture.

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The best part of the program for would-be farmers is that those selected to join its small ranks won't have to worry about racking up more student loans or trying to pay off a mountain of college debt while farming a hill of beans. All twelve students admitted to the program will enjoy a tuition-free education. To help those future farmers of America even more, the program is also working to develop low- or no-interest loans to help program alumni start their own farm projects. It's all part of the program's mission to make farming viable and attractive to a new generation and hopefully encourage folks to return home to farm.

Find out more about the program here. The Wendell Berry Farming Program will begin reviewing applications on April 1, 2019 for enrollment in the fall.