Land Institute President Wes Jackson announced as new Post Carbon Institute Fellow

Land Institute President Wes Jackson announced as new Post Carbon Institute Fellow

Published Mon, 09/28/2009 – 07:00
by Energy Bulletin (

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From the Post Carton Institute website:
Wes Jackson is one of the foremost figures in the international sustainable agriculture movement.

Founder and president of The Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, he has pioneered reserach in Natural Systems Agriculture — including perennial grains, perennial polycultures, and intercropping — for over 30 years. He was a professor of biology at Kansas Wesleyan and later established the Environmental Studies program at California State University, Sacramento, where he became a tenured full professor. He is the author of several books including Becoming Native to This Place (1994), Altars of Unhewn Stone (1987), and New Roots for Agriculture (1980).

The work of the Land Institute has been featured extensively in the popular media, including The Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, and All Things Considered. Life magazine predicted Wes Jackson will be among the 100 “most important Americans of the 20th century.” He is a recipient of the Pew Conservation Scholars award and a MacArthur Fellowship, and has been listed as one of Smithsonian’s 35 Who Made a Difference.” Wes has an M.A. in botany from University of Kansas, and a Ph.D. in genetics from North Carolina State University.

Future Farming: The Call for a 50-Year Perspective on Agriculture

Robert Jenson, dissident voice
As everyone scrambles for a solution to the crises in the nation’s economy, Wes Jackson suggests we look to nature’s economy for some of the answers. With everyone focused on a stimulus package in the short term, he counsels that we pay more attention to the soil over the long haul.

“We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what’s in the bank,” said Jackson, president of The Land Institute. “If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won’t much matter.”

Jackson doesn’t minimize the threat of the current financial problems but argues that the new administration should consider a “50-year farm bill,” which he and the writer/farmer Wendell Berry proposed in a New York Times op/ed earlier this month.

Central to such a bill would be soil. A plan for sustainable agriculture capable of producing healthful food has to come to solve the twin problems of soil erosion and contamination, said Jackson, who co-founded the research center in 1976 after leaving his job as an environmental studies professor at California State University-Sacramento.

Jackson believes that a key part of the solution is in approaches to growing food that mimic nature instead of trying to subdue it. While Jackson and his fellow researchers at The Land Institute continue their work on Natural Systems Agriculture, he also ponders how to turn the possibilities into policy. He spoke with me from his office in Salina, Kansas…
(29 January 2009)

A 50-Year Farm Bill

Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry, The New York Times
THE extraordinary rainstorms last June caused catastrophic soil erosion in the grain lands of Iowa, where there were gullies 200 feet wide. But even worse damage is done over the long term under normal rainfall — by the little rills and sheets of erosion on incompletely covered or denuded cropland, and by various degradations resulting from industrial procedures and technologies alien to both agriculture and nature.

Soil that is used and abused in this way is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government.

Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants. Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.

To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. Some of this toxicity is associated with the widely acclaimed method of minimum tillage. We should not poison our soils to save them.

Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods…
(4 January 2009)

Q&A: Wes Jackson

Jesse Finfrock, Mother Jones
Mother Jones: You’ve spent decades researching plant genetics. Can you explain for people who may not be familiar with the topic why we should transition our agriculture away from annual crops toward perennial crops?

Wes Jackson: If you look at nature’s ecosystems, almost anywhere across the planet, nature features perennials in mixtures. This is pretty easily understood if one reflects on the fact that of the almost 30 elements that you see on the periodic chart that go into organisms—they’re in the upper third of the chart that you see in the classroom—only four of those are in the atmospheric commons: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. The rest of them are at the earth’s surface and below. And they all happen to be hydrophilic, i.e. at home in water. So therefore, one can imagine nature’s ecosystems evolving an elegant diversity of root architectures to manage, in millimeters and minutes, very efficiently, the stuff that life forms are made of. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re a redwood or a human or a Holstein or a corn plant: It’s what we’re all made of, these elements. We land animals, we deep-air animals, if you wish, we have been dependent primarily on nature’s efficient perennial land plants. Agriculture reversed that, though, starting 10 to 12 thousand years ago, by featuring annuals instead of perennials and monocultures instead of polycultures. So that’s where we took the wrong turn. Yes, it allowed us to exploit the soil resource, but it also then meant that we have to tear the ground up every year, leaving it subject to the forces of wind and rain. We do this for all of our high-yielding crops, those that really sustain us. The No. 1 crop of the world is rice. No. 2 is wheat. No. 3 is corn, and then potato, but then soybeans. And you take those four crops, corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, that’s close to two-thirds of the agricultural land and calories of humanity. We’re primarily grass-feed eaters, and secondarily legume-seed eaters. If we’re to solve the 10,000-year-old problem of agriculture, we’re going to have to perennialize the major crops and put them in mixtures so that we can bring the processes of the wild to the farm….
(29 October 2008)

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