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Sterling College offering tuition-free ag program

Sterling College offering tuition-free ag program

The Wendell Berry Farming Program includes two years of residential study

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Undergraduate students looking for more ag education can receive it at little to no cost.

Sterling College, located in Craftsbury, Vt., has established a field site in Henry County, Ky. for the Wendell Berry Farming Program.

Aside from some student fees, there is no tuition cost for the program.

Providing ag students with an education so they don’t have to worry about paying off debt helps them invest in their businesses rather than student loan payments, said Dr. Leah Bayens, dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program.

“We see how difficult it is, especially for new and beginning farmers, to be able to make a livelihood out of farming,” she told “Minimizing student debt would set people up for success and would really allow them to focus more energy on good land stewardship as opposed to paying down thousands of dollars of student loan debt.”

For context, the average U.S. student owes $32,731 in student loan debt, Forbes reported in February.

Courses in the Wendell Berry Farming Program include agroecology, farm and food policy, and draft animal power systems.

In an industry where technology and automation are popular, working intimately with animals provides another layer of education, Bayens said.

“Most of the world’s power systems are affiliated with draft power,” she said. “We think it’s important for people to consider a whole range of power systems that are available. The learning opportunities are outstanding because you can immediately tell if you’ve done something right or wrong because you have to be present and focused.”

The school is accepting 12 students for its 2021 enrollment year.

Undergrad students in their third or fourth year of study must have earned at least 60 college credits by Aug. 23, 2021.

Once classes begin, students participate in a mixture of in-class and on-farm learning, Bayens said.

“We have traditional college experiences of reading, writing and excellent research, as well as hands-on components,” she said. “We strive for about 75 percent discussion-based format and the way we live out those experiential pieces is working along with farmers in our community and at the Berry Center.”

The Berry Center, established in 2011 in New Castle, Ky., is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing “focus, knowledge and cohesion” to agriculture, the center’s website says.

The center is named after farmer and author Wendell Berry, his father and his brother.

Future students can study in a farming environment as the Berry Center recently purchased a 200-acre farm. Soil and water-quality tests at the farm are ongoing, Bayens said.

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