Blaze Johnson considers hot, humid central Florida the closest thing to home, although they say “My family moved around so much growing up that they are more like home than any geographical place.” They graduated from University of Florida with a degree in Agricultural Operations Management. They say they came to TLI because Prairie Festival speakers were some of their first exposures to researchers who acknowledge the interconnectivity of science and agriculture to culture, history, and systemic oppression. Blaze says, “I want to be a part of projects that gather people close and work towards creating equitable systems that will endure post-capitalism. I think TLI has potential in developing such systems, provided that it holds intersections between class, race, gender, and other power struggles as absolutely necessary considerations in its vision.” Blaze’s residency is focused on Crop Protection Ecology where they research silphium’s resistance to pests through fall army worm bioassays. They are learning how to ID bees, and also planning on being involved in experiments exploring if silphium changes its chemistry in response to infection by Eucosma moths.
What work experiences on your resume are most relevant to your position at TLI?
During a farm-to-table internship in Alabama, I became so well acquainted with the smell of tomato plants that the scent still invokes images of green fingers and sunlight filtering through fruited arches. I can look at that summer and see inklings of a community design that centers food, relationships, and collective responsibility, which are ideas I want to keep in mind when designing experiments or analyzing systems here at TLI.
What would people never guess that you do as part of your role at TLI?
Over the winter I helped cross wheat, which involves taking tweezers to each tiny flower on each spikelet of a wheat head, and removing three tiny green anthers before they have a chance to produce pollen. You might be asking: Blaze, with the anthers gone, who will pollinate the flower to produce the wheat seed? The answer is me. After collecting pollen from a different, potentially uncooperative wheat plant, I gently apply the pollen to the wheat head I have de-anthered, being careful not to damage the ovary.
What else are you passionate about (outside of work)?
I’m deeply interested in the complexities of individual people and interpersonal relationships. As an emotionally sensitive person, I spend a lot of time (sometimes too much) analyzing my own feelings and pondering the rich inner worlds of others. I’m fascinated with the huge varieties of ways people can give and receive care! I want to create a culture that makes space for vulnerability and our wide range of emotional and physical needs, which our current capitalist society does not.
What were you like at age 10?
Somehow both rowdy and a bookworm, with an intense fascination for secret passageways.
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