Special to The Record
Eleanor Bingham Miller, sister of the late Courier-Journal publisher Barry Bingham, Jr., pledged a gift of $450,000 to the newly formed program, which will see its first classes start in a few weeks.
Bingham Miller, owner of Harrod’s Creek Farm in Oldham County, pledged the gift to be used for scholarships for international students over the next three years, according to a St. Catharine College news release.
“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 (at St. Catharine) with the college, the curriculum and with The Berry Center,” Bingham Miller said.
She added that she understands the Kentucky author and environmental activist’s philosophy, and uses sustainable agricultural practices on her 680-acre farm. “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,” she said, espousing efforts that Berry has emphasized for years.
Over time on her farm, Bingham Miller said in the release, topsoil has increased and spring water has become more pure.
Bingham Miller toured the St. Catharine campus recently with St. Catharine College President William Huston, trustee Lawrence H. Butterfield Jr., Berry Farming Program Director Dr. Leah Bayens and Dr. Rob Slocum, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
The gift from Bingham Miller will fully fund three international students as they pursue a bachelor’s degree in the Berry program, the release said. Students receiving the scholarships will begin classes in January. They will study agroecology, plant and soil stewardship, community leadership and environment 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 in the release. “The international component is important because … everywhere in the 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.”
Program Director Leah Bayens said Bingham Miller’s gift “speaks to the urgent need locally and globally for bolstering community-minded, local market-oriented food production.”
“This gift will help students from various geographic and cultural terrains to learn how they can foster robust agricultural economies in their homelands. Likewise, their experiences will help American students understand the ecological, economic and social challenges farmers face elsewhere.”
Butterfield, the trustee who met with Bingham Miller, praised not only her gift but the Berry program.
“We have the curriculum in place; it’s cutting edge in every aspect,” he said. “It’s the only program like this anywhere in the world.”
Overtime, Butterfield and Huston said in the release, it’s hoped that more pledges will be made toward students and the program.
“Ms. Bingham Miller has agreed to assist the college in helping us cultivate others to support this initiative,” the college’s president said. He added that Bingham Miller will allow the program to use her farm in Oldham County “as a lab and research site.”
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, Ky.