“If your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”
That’s what Wes Jackson, one of the founding fathers of the sustainable agriculture movement and president of The Land Institute, has said about his goal of restoring North American prairie ecosystems. Jackson’s statement of environmental ambition has become a kind of touchstone for The Perennial, and so we are proud to be involved in one of The Land Institutes most important projects: a perennial grain called Kernza, which could revolutionize the environmental impact of the vast swaths of land currently devoted to annual wheat crops.
Long ago, before the plains states were cleared for agricultural use, prairies stored enormous amounts of carbon, deep in the soil. When the native perennial grasses were cleared to make way for annual crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans, that carbon was released into the atmosphere and bonded with oxygen to make carbon dioxide. For the past twenty years, scientists at The Land Institute have used traditional breeding methods to develop a perennial plant they’ve named Kernza, which will help restore the soil ecosystem and draw carbon out of the atmosphere into the soil. Kernza is an intermediate wheatgrass that can be milled into flour and used alongside and in place of conventional wheat flour.
As a perennial, Kernza’s deep root structure has a lot of benefits. It provides a home for many other carbon-storing organisms, from bacteria to insects to worms. And healthy soil means less erosion, better water retention, and less fertilizer run-off. The overall goals are to restore the health of the prairie ecosystem and mitigate climate change.
The Land Institute has been working on Kernza since 2002, and the journey has just begun. There’s still a lot of work to do. The Perennial's pastry chef, Nicola Carey, has developed a bread recipe we love, with 40% of the flour coming from Kernza, and we're very proud to be the first restaurant to serve Kernza bread. We anticipate a long process of experimentation, but it feels good to be part of something big. Even if it takes more than a lifetime to achieve.