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Miller presents Berry Farming Program with fourth largest gift in history

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Classes for the newly formed Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program don’t begin for a few weeks, but big things are already happening.
Eleanor Bingham Miller, owner of Harrod’s Creek Farm in Oldham County, pledged a gift of $450,000 in scholarships for international students over the next three years. The amount is the fourth-largest ever pledged to St. Catharine College.
“For Wendell Berry, as he is now moving into that phase of his life where a legacy is becoming important, I cannot imagine a more important and successful legacy than what he’s doing here with the college and the curriculum and with The Berry Center,” Bingham Miller said.
Bingham Miller understands the Berry philosophy, as she operates a 680-acre farm that puts sustainable practices to use.
“The philosophy that’s guided every decision on the farm for the past 30 years has been to increase the soil and purify the water,” Bingham Miller said.
Over time, topsoil has increased and spring water has become more pure, she said.
Bingham Miller toured campus recently and had a discussion with St. Catharine College President William D. Huston, St. Catharine College trustee Lawrence H. Butterfield, Jr., Berry Farming Program Director Dr. Leah Bayens and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Dr. Rob Slocum.
The gift from Bingham Miller will fully fund three international students as they pursue a bachelor’s degree in the Berry program. Students receiving this award will begin classes in January. They will study agroecology, plant and soil stewardship, community leadership, and environmental arts and humanities.
“I think this is the program that’s going to really be drawing people in from all over the country and from all over the world,” Bingham Miller said. “The international component is important because we’re not alone in the United States. Everywhere in the whole world that does farming is being hit with these same issues of overuse of chemicals, overuse of toxic poisons, damage to the soil, damage to the water, damage to the air and damage to human health.”
“This contribution speaks to the urgent need locally and globally for bolstering community-minded, local market-oriented food production,” Bayens said. “This gift will help students from various geographic and cultural terrains learn how they can foster robust agricultural economies in their homeplaces. Likewise, their experiences will help American students understand the ecological, economic, and social challenges farmers face elsewhere.”
Butterfield called Bingham Miller’s gift the first three seeds planted by the Berry program.
“We have the curriculum in place; it’s cutting edge in every aspect. It’s the only program like this anywhere in the world,” Butterfield said.
Butterfield said the program was vetted by sustainable agriculture experts at the international Resettling of America conference in April.
Over time, he and Huston hoped that more pledges could be made towards students and this program.
“Ms. Bingham has agreed to assist the college in helping us cultivate others to support this initiative as well as the use of her farm in Oldham County as a lab and research site,” Huston said.
Butterfield stressed that students in the Berry program could come from various backgrounds.
“The expectation may be that it doesn’t have to be an 18-year-old student,” he said. “ It could be somebody with some college experience or it could be a graduate that is intent upon taking the farming courses and then returning to their country to make a difference not only in the farming community but to be a leader. That’s one of the things our college is known for: we turn out students that tend to become leaders. This program is sure designed to do that.”
Classes officially begin at St. Catharine College and in the Berry program on Aug. 12.
The Berry Farming Program was established in 2011 through St. Catharine College’s partnership with The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, founded by Mary Berry.