The Berea College Farm began as a garden and a few dairy cows in 1871. Today, it stretches across 500 acres and includes beef cattle, hogs, poultry, field crops, horticulture crops, and honey bees. All year long, Berea will be celebrating our sesquicentennial—the 150th anniversary—of one of the nation’s oldest continuously operating educational farms.
In the early days, the Farm provided food for boarding houses and work for students. Over time, it became a place to demonstrate the latest farming techniques and a field of learning for students of various majors, but especially agriculture and natural resource students. Today, the Farm continues to be a resource to the region and offers students practical opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom. This includes the recently established Berea College Farm Store, where our students apply lessons in marketing and value-added food processing.
The Farm’s longevity is special, but it has not come without challenges. Each generation of College farmers have navigated the limitations of the land and the fluctuations of the market. What makes the College Farm unique is that each challenge, and sometimes failure, became an opportunity to learn. Students learned to adapt the Farm to adversity, experiment with new techniques, and in doing so took knowledge with them out into the region.
The Farm’s present and future being driven by students also make it unique and special. In the late 1990s, when students became concerned about industrial-scale farming, the College Farm transitioned to raising certified organic crops. Students also led the transition from feedlot-finishing of cattle to grass finishing and ended the practice of hog confinement. Students, working just 10 to 15 hours per week, ensure our honey bees are pesticide-free.
Our students learn all aspects of Farm operations, from feeding animals and weeding gardens to more complex challenges like analyzing and adjusting crop rotations and testing new ideas with research projects. In that sense, not only is the Farm a learning laboratory for students that instills an uncommon work ethic within them, it also becomes a place to demonstrate new ideas. We take these ideas into the community through partnerships with area organizations such as Madison County Cooperative Extension, the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Most recently, the horticulture operation, managed by Janet Meyer, hosted a virtual field day with the Organic Association of Kentucky. This is in addition to hosting school groups and regional Future Farmers of America chapters—before the pandemic.
The Berea College Farm will continue in its primary role as a learning laboratory where students, staff and faculty test, evaluate and demonstrate a variety of farming methods. It will also maintain its focus on improving and developing sustainable and appropriate agriculture for the region. The recent advent of large-scale greenhouse facilities in our area by AppHarvest represents interesting possibilities for scholarly interactions and collaboration, and we look forward to such opportunities.
This year we will be celebrating 150 years of a truly unique and special farm operation, much of it virtually. Be on the lookout for virtual farm tours and alumni happy hours, as well as special merchandise that will be available through the Farm Store’s online ordering form. May the next 150 years of the Farm be as “fruitful” as the last.