Wes Jackson

In recent months my daughter has expressed an interest in attending Butler University, here in Indianapolis.

So on Thursday after work the two of us drove over to the campus to have a look around. We walked over much of the grounds, went into the library and science buildings, and ate in the cafeteria.

Then - I'm such a fun dad - I took her to a lecture. After all, sitting through lectures is part of the college experience, no? At least I hope so, given how much tuition is these days.

Fortunately (for me, at least) the speaker was Wes Jackson, one of my heroes. Jackson appears regularly in lists of visionaries.

He founded an organization in Kansas called The Land Institute that works on developing perennial polycultures - that is, mixtures of grains and legumes that you plant once and pretty much leave alone, until harvest time.

The grains produce food and the legumes produce nitrogen for the grain plants. The idea is to create an agricultural system that doesn't need regular plowing and chemical application, thus reducing soil erosion and energy inputs into the food system.

They've been breeding a perennial wheat variety and now have field-scale production going on - very cool, at least for those of us who like to eat and hope that future generations will be able to eat too.

One highlight of the evening for me was getting a chance to introduce myself and chat for a couple of minutes. He was also gracious enough to sign my tattered and heavily underlined copy of his wonderful book New Roots for Agriculture.


(Originally posted 1 April 2012)