HENRY COUNTY, Ky. — Hands-on experience is key in higher education, but one institution is taking it a step further. Sterling College in Vermont has an opportunity in Kentucky for undergraduates who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.

“We really recognize that agriculture is a backbone of what it takes to be human,” said Dr. Leah Bayens, the program director at Sterling College.

Bayens said the Wendell Berry Farming Program is a tuition-free, two-year residential education program based in Henry County, Ky., designed to serve students from generational farm families or those with a strong desire to farm. It’s aimed at cultivating the future of farmers in Kentucky and across the nation.

“We have less than 1% of the US population farming and of those folks who are farming, few of them are actually farming full-time,” said Bayens.

Courses include subjects like agroecology, holistic livestock husbandry, U.S. Farm and Food Policy, and small business management. 

Moxie Mehegan, the dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Sterling College said that the tuition-free program would help remove the financial burden that might keep the next crop of farmers from pursuing their dreams.

“$100,000 in debt and to go into small-scale and mid-grade farming when their potential on the return on investment would take a very long time to pay off, it’s one of the reasons why we are very proud to be able to offer the Wendell Berry Farming program as a zero tuition program,” said Mehegan.

Bayens said that admission to the program is highly competitive. After a pilot program in 2018, the school launched its first cohort of 12 students as part of the tuition-free program in 2019. Interested students don’t need to have previously attended Sterling to be considered and transfer into the program. One of the biggest prerequisites is the passion for sustainable agriculture and a commitment to the communities that rely on growing healthy food.

“We are fulfilling our obligation to our place and our community especially rural communities like this one in Henry County of being able to learn and teach how to take good care of this land and to be able to produce good food and fiber in the process,” said Bayens.

The Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College is now accepting applications for fall 2021. Students don’t pay tuition for the sustainable farming program thanks to grant support from the NoVo Foundation