Land Institute Prairie Festival

by Rich Heffern

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The annual Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina, Kans. will be held from Sept. 24 to 26. Featured speakers at the festival include Wendell Berry, author Scott Russel Sanders, artist Matilda Essig, and more.

For more information, or to register, go to the Prairie Festival Web page.

The Land Institute, under its founder Wes Jackson, has worked for over 30 years on the problem of agriculture. Their purpose is to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops. The Land Institute's personnel have researched, published in refereed scientific journals, given hundreds of public presentations in the United States and abroad, and hosted countless intellectuals and scientists. Their work is frequently cited, most recently in Science and Nature, the most prestigious scientific journals. They are now assembling a team of advisors which includes members of the National Academy of Sciences. These scientists understand the Land Institute's work and stand ready to endorse the feasibility of what the Institute has come to call Natural Systems Agriculture.

My wife and I have attended the festival several times. Friday night kicks off the weekend with a dance held in the large barn on the Land Institute grounds. Then there are speakers, exhibits, networking with the people in attendance from all over the world, including many young people, and a tour of the research facilities. A high point is a visit to the two trenches near the Institute which show for comparison the root system of native prairie plants and that of the domesticated wheat that is grown on the prairie. The wheat roots extend down a foot or so into the soil; the native grasses extend six feet or more down into the subsoil. It's an apt illustration of the wisdom and efficiency of natural plants.

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