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Perennial Polyculture – Changing the Way We Do Agriculture: Lauren Gjessing ’17 at The Land Institute

After visiting The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas this summer with a group of my classmates I was inspired to head back to do my winter co-op there and play a little part in working towards their mission. The Land Institute is a non-profit ecological agricultural research organization.

Much of the world’s farmland is covered in annual monocrops. Agriculture, as we know it, is not sustainable. Food production requires lots of inputs like fossil fuel, fertilizer, water, and seed. Perhaps most destructive is the damage this system is doing to the soil, making soil unproductive thus requiring more inputs.

The Land Institute is working towards a food system that mimics nature’s prairie system of perennial polyculture that requires no inputs. They are working to breed perennial sunflowers for oil, and grains like sorghum, wheat, and Kerza – a perennial intermediate wheatgrass named by the Land Institute. This is a very long term project and requires many trials and errors.

Much of my work was repetitive and involved collecting data by weighing, counting, and cleaning seed. With the greenhouse in full swing, one of my favorite tasks was to cross Kerza plants by searching for and putting two pollinating plants side by side then putting the pollinating heads inside a bag to create a new plant.

(In the photo I am standing next to a pile of dried sorghum – there was tons more where that came from!)

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