Rural-Urban Connection

The Berry Center seeks to find a place for rural farmers

Berry Center was established in 2011 by Mary Berry

NEW CASTLE, Ky. (January 2016) – Henry County, Ky., author Wendell Berry has had a profound effect on the literary and agricultural world. His daughter, Mary Berry, in 2011 created The Berry Center to preserve the legacy he and his family have established in both of these fields.
The Berry Center, 111 S. Main St. in New Castle, Ky., is a 501c3 foundation established for the purpose of bringing focus, knowledge and cohesiveness to the agricultural system of today’s world, according to its mission statement. The Berry Center is grounded in the lives of three men: John Berry Sr., John Berry Jr. and Wendell Berry.

Photo by Don Ward

Michele Guthrie is the Archivist at The Berry Center in New Castle, Ky.

“My father always said his father did important work in agriculture,” said Mary Berry, who serves as the center’s executive director. Both sons took up the work of John Berry Sr. and were concerned with promoting a thriving economy around local production.
“My father took up his father’s work, and I took up my father’s work,” said Mary Berry. “Nobody else was doing it. I couldn’t wait until someone else did it.” She believes now is the time to carry on his perspective of agriculture in a positive way for the future.
The work at The Berry Center is focused on archiving and cataloging the papers of John Berry Sr., John Berry, Jr. and Wendell Berry, said Katie Ellis, Managing Director for The Berry Center. Ultimately, “there will be access to researchers, students, etc. at the center and online.”
Michele Guthrie, a close friend of the Berry family and retired librarian, is conducting the archival work.
The Berry Center is run by a board of directors that were chosen by Mary Berry. She assembled a group of people whom she thought would give input “based on the problems facing agriculture today,” she said. It was originally located in the former law office of John Berry Sr. near the Henry County Courthouse but in 2013 as moved to its current location.
John Berry Sr. was a farmer and lawyer in New Castle. He worked tirelessly on behalf of tobacco farmers and was a founding member of the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-Op. To further his work, one of the center’s ongoing projects is to study the Burley Tobacco Program to see how it can be used to protect today’s local food producers in the marketplace.
His son, John Berry Jr., is a farmer and lawyer also. He held a distinguished career in the Kentucky legislature from 1974 to 1982, many times speaking, writing and legislating in support of farmers and the environment. It is the speeches, manuscripts and letters of these men and the works of Wendell Berry that will be catalogued and archived at The Berry Center for research purposes. Each held the same vision: a state and a nation of prosperous well-tended farms serving and supporting healthy local communities.
Important in the collection is Wendell Berry’s book, published in 1977, titled, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.”
“The way he looked at agriculture and culture needs to be continued,” said Mary Berry. “A lot of other people see it as a problem, too, and people all over are working on it.”
“It’s time,” said Ellis, to continue the importance of protecting the farmer in the community, marketplace and elsewhere. One way The Berry Center has done this is to partner with Louisville Metro’s Farm to Table Program. Its goal is to increase the capacity of the local food system by working to increase production, marketing, distribution and sales of Kentucky’s edible agricultural products while trying to meet the demand of the Louisville market for local foods.
The goal of The Berry Center is to strategize with organizations and “advance our work to support farmers across the state,” Ellis said. It also wants to “provide an education for students, especially those who may want to pursue an education in agriculture.”
The Berry Center is collaborating with St. Catharine College, a liberal arts college in Springfield, Ky., to pilot a small farm agricultural degree. Both entities have been working since 2013 to establish the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program. 
An example of the center’s past involvement was its collaboration in playing host to the 15th Anniversary Healthy Foods Local Farms Conference, Real Homeland Security: “Food, Health and Community,” on Oct. 10-11, 2014.  The conference featured nationally known speakers who addressed issues related to the local food economy. The roster of speakers included Daphne Miller, M.D., a physician and author of “Farmacology;” Sister Claire McGowan, founder of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future; Will Harris, president of White Oak Pastures; and Wendell Berry.
Locally, The Berry Center has participated in the Henry County Harvest Showcase and the staff there is planning to “do more work in the community,” Ellis said. Located beside the Berry Center at 129 S. Main St. is the Pearce Cabin, a restored cabin dating back to the 1790s. It houses The Berry Center’s bookstore and gift shop for local authors and artisans. “It’s a great place to stop in,” said Ellis.
The Berry Center has an ambitious undertaking to follow and study farm policy in Kentucky and the nation. At the top of the list is trying to see how The Fifty Year Farm Plan applies to Kentucky. This plan was proposed by The Land Institute in Kansas and written by Wes Jackson, Fred Kirschenmann and Wendell Berry.
The plan involves work with perennial grain crops. Those at The Berry Center believe that in Kentucky the focus needs to be placed on permanent pasture, forests and perennial crops.
The center seeks to promote the vital connection between urban centers and rural communities. “We need to reconnect” between the two, said Mary Berry.

• For more information, contact The Berry Center at: www.BerryCenter.org.

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