Staff Biographies

Kris Boele

Kris spent summers at The Land Institute working as a seasonal worker while attending Bethany College at nearby Lindsborg. That experience led him to join the staff fulltime last year as a research technician, working primarily with sorghum. His degree is in physical health and wellness, and he has pursued that interest as a personal trainer at the local YMCA.

Jamie Bugel

Jamie BugelJamie joined the Land Institute staff in 2014 as a research technician focusing on perennial wheat. She graduated from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania with a degree in biology. She has been interested in biological processes since partaking in a student-faculty collaborative research project identifying critical genes expressed in acute myeloid leukemia. Her interests in sustainability and renewable resources were sparked when she spent a semester researching population dynamics of the reef ecosystems in the Turks and Caicos Islands. After graduating she helped manage the Dickinson College Farm where her love of agriculture was cemented. Along with being part of the team at the Land Institute, Jamie is also a swim instructor at the local YMCA and loves exploring the prairie landscape in Kansas.

Carrie Carpenter

Carrie is part of our Development department, working with our recurring gift and general funders. She is a native Salinan and a graduate of Kansas Wesleyan University with degrees in English and psychology. Both degrees come in handy in her roles of answering incoming e-mails to info@landinstitute.org, sending out the Scoop e-newsletter, and writing more than 1,000 thank-you notes each year. Her parents were involved with The Land Institute from its earliest planning stages and she says she is honored to carry on the family tradition.

Marty Christians

marty-christiansMarty is a research technician working on the domestication of Kernza, our trademark name for the intermediate wheatgrass we are domesticating as a grain crop. During the growing season, his work takes him to the field, where he can be found planting, transplanting, weeding, mapping, labeling, collecting data, sampling biomass and harvesting. In the winter he spends a lot of time in the greenhouse, where he breeds and monitors plants and records data, and in the seed lab, where harvested seeds are processed and propagative techniques are practiced.  He joined the staff in 2010. Previously, Marty worked on native prairie, wetland, and forest restoration projects.  He has an interest in the protection of the natural environment and in the development and preservation of perennial crop and plant systems.

Sheila Cox

Sheila, a research technician at The Land Institute since 2005, works primarily with sorghum and the oilseed crops of sunflower and Silphium.

Stan Cox

Stan Cox | The Land InstituteStan Cox is our Research Coordinator and Senior Scientist. His research focus is sorghum. He earned a B.S. in agronomy at the University of Georgia and an M.S. and Ph.D. (1983) in plant breeding at Iowa State University. He previously worked in the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA in Manhattan, Kansas, as a wheat geneticist and joined The Land Institute in 2000.

Tim Crews

Tim Crews | The Land InstituteTim, director of research, is at the Land Institute because in his words, “the work is the most focused and far reaching of any organization I know. It promises to transform agriculture from being an ecological liability to an asset.” Tim first visited The Land Institute in 1981 after reading New Roots for Agriculture as an undergraduate majoring in agroecology at University of California-Santa Cruz. Over the next three decades he pursued a doctorate degree at Cornell, carried out a post-doc fellowship at Stanford and developed an agroecology program at Prescott College in Northern Arizona. But all along he continued to track the work of The Land Institute, and in 2000 began to collaborate directly. In 2012 Tim joined the staff as director of research and an ecologist. He helps facilitate and coordinate research efforts of his colleagues, and conducts work on the ecosystem functions performed by soils.

Siva Damaraju

Siva Damaraju | The Land InstituteOriginally from Hyderabad, India, Siva joined the research staff of The Land Institute in January of 2014 as a postdoctoral fellow.  He is leading a project to explore non-legume sources of nitrogen fixation in perennial crops.  He works in the greenhouse, lab and field to find and evaluate what are called “endophytic (inside the plant) nitrogen fixing bacteria.”  Before coming to The Land, Siva was a post-doc researcher at Kansas State University in Manhattan working in bioremediation and bioenergy.  He is newly and happily married, and enjoying getting to know a new Kansas town.

Lee DeHaan

Lee DeHaanLee became a staff member in September 2001 after a two-year Land Institute Graduate Research Fellowship. Raised on a farm in Minnesota, he has a strong background in the everyday challenges of agriculture. His focus is development of Kernza (wheatgrass) as a perennial grain. Lee earned a B.A. in Plant Science and Biology at Dordt College, and M.S and Ph.D. degrees in Agronomy, specializing in Agro-ecology, at the University of Minnesota. He received two awards there: an outstanding graduate student award from his department and a scholarship for meritorious graduate students from Crop Science Society of America. His graduate research focused on development of new leguminous perennial crops. From 2001 to 2010 he led the perennial-wheat breeding program at The Land Institute.

Tiffany Durr

Tiffany Durr | The Land InstituteTiffany, greenhouse manager, is a homegrown Kansan. She graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in horticulture with an emphasis in landscape design. Little did she know that the landscape she would be helping to design would be that of agriculture itself! Tiffany’s job title is greenhouse manager, but she tends to branch out (pun intended) and help far beyond the greenhouse. She also maintains the Research department budget and does the purchasing for the Research staff. She is also excited to be part of our new social media campaign. Since beginning her work here in 2004, she married Zeke Durr, a Kansas farmer. Together they are raising two girls who will be the fifth generation farmers on their land. Although Tiffany has always been passionate about breeding perennial grains and changing the face of agriculture, having two daughters who want to farm brings the mission even closer to home. Tiffany has joined the quest to make sure we have perennial grains grown in polycultures so her family farm can continue to produce sustainable food for generations to come.

Ron Fent

Ron Fent | The Land InstituteRon keeps The Land Institute grounds looking neat and works as a field and lab technician when needed. He enjoys working outdoors and has years of experience as a landscape professional. He is known for his skills as a singer and songwriter, and produces documentaries. Ron is a graduate of the University of Kansas. He is a Salina native and his father, Nick, a geologist and natural historian, was an early inspiration to Wes Jackson in learning about the potential of prairie plants.

Adam Gorrell

Adam helps care for our plants, both in the field and in the greenhouse. He is a native of Salina, received a degree in agriculture technology management at Kansas State University and joined our staff in 2009.  As a research technician in charge of crop management, he helps carry out research on the breeding and development of perennial grain crops.  Adam also tends his own farm and hopes that it someday is home to perennial grain crops.

Stephanie Hutchinson

Stephanie joined The Land Institute in 1995 as Office Manager/Accountant. It was a Leadership Salina class taken while deputy city clerk that first piqued her interest in The Land. During her time here she has seen the organization grow from a staff of 12 and an annual budget of $490,000 to a current staff of 30 and an annual budget of $2.8 million. Steph was raised on a farm in Russell County, Kansas, and believes that perennial polycultures can address many of the environmental issues plaguing her native state of Kansas, as well as the rest of the world

Wes Jackson

Wes Jackson | The Land InstituteWes, founder and president of The Land Institute, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina; a master’s degree in botany from the University of Kansas, and a doctorate in genetics from North Carolina State University. He established and served as chair of one of the country’s first environmental studies programs at California State University-Sacramento and then returned to his native Kansas to found The Land Institute in 1976. He is the author of several books, including New Roots for Agriculture, Becoming Native to This Place, Consulting the Genius of the Place, and most recently Nature as Measure. Wes is widely recognized as a leader in the international movement for a more sustainable agriculture. He was a Pew Conservation Scholar in 1990, a MacArthur Fellow in 1992, and received the Right Livelihood Award in 2000. Life magazine included him as one of 18 individuals predicted to be among the 100 important Americans of the 20th century. Smithsonian in 2005 included him as one of “35 Who Made a Difference.”

Patti Johnson

Joining The Land just a week before 2004 Prairie Festival, Patti was initiated rather quickly to her job as she processed registrations for the annual event that drew about 500 people that year. Since then festival attendance has doubled but Patti says one thing has remained constant: those she works with at The Land are great people. Besides the festival, Patti’s duties as administrative assistant include paying the bills and keeping the records and files in order. Patti is the daughter of a Kansas wheat and dairy farmer who gained an early understanding of the serious problems of soil erosion and drought. She recalls her father talking of the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, telling of the dust storms rolling in and the family’s attempt to keep the dust out of the house by putting dampened sheets over windows. Those stories and experiences, she says, have led her to value even more the work of The Land Institute, and she’s proud to be a part.

Laura Kemp

Laura has been an ecology field and lab technician at The Land Institute since 2013.  She does everything from pulling soil samples with the Geoprobe corer, to evaluating plant water hydration status before the sun comes up.  Born in Baxter Springs, Laura is a Kansas native.  She graduated magna cum laude at Kansas State University with a primary major in agronomy and a secondary major in natural resources and environmental science.  Outside of her day job, Laura loves to dance, hike, garden, knit, and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Ron Kinkelaar

Ron is the nuts and bolts guy who keeps our vehicle fleet and field equipment rolling. He’s been on staff seven years. Besides mechanical work, he plays a lead role in setting up the grounds for our annual Prairie Festival. In his spare time, Ron enjoys collecting antique tractors, which often are seen in Salina-area parades. And he enjoys a slower form of transportation, too, riding the horses and mules he keeps on his rural property near The Land Institute.

John Mai

John’s role as a research technician working to develop perennial wheat takes him not only to the breeding plots but also to the DNA lab, where his analysis helps Scientist Shuwen Wang plan hybrid wheat crosses. John grew up on a farm in western Kansas, and has always enjoyed getting his hands dirty. He studied botany at Fort Hays State University, and his botany skills are put to use in identifying native prairie plants. John regularly marks plants on our Wauhob Prairie site to inform visitors who come to walk among the grasses. John previously worked with the Soil Conservation Service and has worked at The Land Institute since 2000, except for a three-year hiatus. Besides perennial wheat breeding, his work assignments have included helping with the 10-year Sunshine Farm energy study, and working with former Land scientist Jerry Glover with soil research.

Pheonah Nabukalu

Pheonah Nabukalu | The Land InstitutePheonah, born and raised in Uganda, joined The Land Institute in 2013 as a postdoctoral fellow to conduct field experiments on sorghum breeding. Her work includes comparing selected sorghum families for perenniality, data collection and analysis. Pheonah is passionate about research focused on new grain varieties that are higher-yielding, resistant to pests and diseases, drought-resistant or regionally adapted to different environments and growing conditions. She received her doctorate degree from Louisiana State University in plant breeding.

Jayne Norlin

Jayne Norlin | The Land InstituteJayne joined The Land Institute in 2011 as director of institutional advancement, following 32 years of teaching and development work for two private colleges, punctuated by a brief career in financial services. Having grown up in Oklahoma, she appreciates Native American art, college football, and red soil.  She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in English from the University of Oklahoma, and a minor in ancient Greek. She is an avid vegetable gardener and canner, an obsessive knitter and enjoys distance running.

Duane Schrag

Duane is a newspaper survivor, believer in the redemption afforded by large format photography, and unfortunately enamored of large datasets. He prefers to think that the main difference between pessimists and optimists is that the pessimists are better informed. Since joining The Land Institute in 2010, he has worked in the development office researching potential funders, writing proposals, and making the first pot of coffee every morning.

Scott Seirer

Scott Seirer | The Land InstituteScott became managing director of The Land Institute in 2011 after retiring from a 38-year career in journalism that included stints as photographer, writer, editor and manager. Photography was a first love and he’s often seen roaming The Land property with camera in hand. He counts among his other passions cooking and sourdough bread baking, sometimes with our Kernza flour. He is a lifelong Kansan, having grown up in the small farming community of Mankato. He holds a degree in English from Fort Hays State University.

Freddie Smith

Freddie Smith | The Land InstituteFreddie joined The Land Institute in 2011 and is commonly recognized as the voice that greets you when you call. Besides answering the phone, she maintains The Land’s master calendar, sets up tours and manages the sales of books and other merchandise. She is also the hostess du jour to guests, and coordinates staff get-togethers that include barbecue lunches, special-occasion celebrations and the Christmas party that includes an infamous white elephant gift exchange. Freddie, who grew up an Air Force brat, lived in many places before she came to central Kansas for good in 1971. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina.

Josh Svaty

Josh Svaty | The Land InstituteJosh is a fifth generation farmer from Ellsworth County, Kansas.  A former state legislator, Kansas secretary of agriculture, and senior adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7, Josh has spent almost the entirety of his professional career in and around modern agriculture.  He and his wife Kimberly have two sons and a daughter, and continue to operate their farm in Ellsworth County, 30 minutes west of The Land Institute. A beginning farmer with debt of his own, Josh has passionate thoughts about the economics of modern agriculture and how it is changing the natural landscape. Ellsworth County is also rugged Smoky Hill country, much of which is still native prairie.  It is a constant reminder to Josh that there is a functioning ecosystem next to his fields that can inform how we farm in the future.  He is proud to be a part of the work at The Land Institute.

Cindy Thompson

Cindy nurtures plants in the greenhouse and her roots at The Land Institute go deep. In 1977 she was a member of the second class of students at The Land Institute, learning from founder Wes Jackson about the environment and the need to consider alternatives in agriculture, energy, shelter and waste disposal. Prior to that, she majored in “Survival Studies” at Kansas Wesleyan University, a major Jackson started when he taught at the local university. Then it was off to Kansas State University, where Cindy earned a degree in solar engineering. Today, she works from fall through spring at The Land greenhouse and, in the summer, is a gardener for the Salina Food Bank. Along the way she had six children. And in her spare time? What spare time?

David Van Tassel

David Van Tassel | The Land InstituteDavid Van Tassel has been involved in several of the perennial grains projects at The Land Institute since 1997 but for the last several years has directed the perennial oilseeds project. Several species and approaches are being investigated; he is currently most enthusiastic about the prospects for domesticating an oilseed from the genus Silphium. These native North American plants are related to the true sunflowers but have much deeper root systems.

Despite growing up in apartment buildings in a big city, David was fascinated by plants and farming from an early age. In high school human geography he was exposed to issues like land reform, agricultural development through “intermediate technology” and the green revolution. With international agriculture as a career goal, he studied Biology in college. However, he began to realize that many of the agricultural problems in “less developed” countries were influenced more by social, economic and political issues than biology. More interested in biology than politics, he did a Ph.D. course in Botany at the University of California, Davis.

In addition to conducting breeding programs to adapt wild Silphium and perennial sunflower species for agriculture, he is interested in the exploring the theoretical basis for attempting (and accelerating) de novo plant domestication. Domestication is an under-explored topic given the fact that no major crop has been domesticated for thousands of years and that most of the world’s plant breeders focus on just a handful of global commodity crops.

Future plans for the perennial oilseed program include (a) working with food chemists to develop uses and breeding goals for Silphium oil, (b) working with collaborators in different regions and countries to develop a broadly adapted gene-pool for the new crop, and (c) developing genomic tools to accelerate conventional plant breeding.

Shuwen Wang

Shuwen-Wang-Land-Institute-scientist-Shuwen-Wang-focuses-on-perennial-wheat-researchShuwen joined our research staff in the fall of 2010 and focuses on perennial wheat. He has been breeding wheat since 1988, first in his native China, then as a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University, and most recently at South Dakota State, where he also bred soybeans. Shuwen makes heavy use of our lab, where he charts DNA to identify chromosome structures that might indicate whether a plant is perennial or annual. That information helps inform his decisions of which plants to include in crossbreeding.

Darlene Wolf

Darlene Wolf | The Land InstituteDarlene joined The Land Institute in August 2001 and is the administrative assistant to the president, helping President Jackson and other staff members prepare for appointments and talks. She also handles the logistics for board meetings and Prairie Festival speakers. A native Kansan and farmer’s daughter, Darlene appreciates the effort The Land Institute is making to help farmers, and she enjoys having a small part in that work. She earned an associate’s degree in computer science from Colby Community College before beginning the adventures of married life with a western Kansas farm boy. Now that she and her husband are officially in the empty-nest stage of life, they enjoy spending more time at home on their small farm in McPherson County and frequently help on her family’s farm in Saline County.