Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wes Jackson

The Kansas Farm Boy Who's Breeding an Edible Prairie

Extractive economy simply means an economy based on depletion, deficit spending of the Earth's ecological capital.

                                                                                          Wes Jackson

Wes Jackson was born in 1936 on a farm near Topeka, Kansas. He would have been learning long division and joining the 4H while WWII was rushing to its bloody close, receiving his BS in Biology while cars still had tail fins, his MS in Botany at the Cold War's suspenseful height, and a PhD in Genetics when American citizens were beginning to realize foreign policy could be mistaken. Jackson chaired one of America's first Environmental Studies programs, at California State University in Sacramento, then returned to Kansas to found the Land Institute.

Some plants, annuals, live for one season, others, perennials, for several. In nature perennials, in mixtures, dominate.  Agriculture has reversed this, and we grow acres of nothing but one or another annual (chiefly just four, rice, wheat, corn, and soy), sprawling beyond the horizon. The Land Institute is trying to get back to nature by breeding perennial versions of corn, sorghum, sunflower, and wheat, and growing them together. They are also  domesticating food-producing wild perennials. This strategy saves soil and energy, because plants growing deep roots over many seasons won't require tilling, and will have greater access to minerals and water, and because mixtures of plants will be less vulnerable to diseases and pests.

Jackson describes himself not as optimistic, but hopeful.

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