Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Jack Graddis


Jack grew up in Los Angeles, California. He doesn’t spend much time there anymore but still considers it home. He is majoring in Biology and minoring in Rhetoric at Oberlin College in Ohio and will be graduating this coming semester. Previous to coming to TLI, he had worked on a few small farms so he had a fair amount of experience with basic farm upkeep (weeding, planting, harvesting, etc…), which is very relevant to keeping the research plots on track.

He was drawn to work at TLI after visiting three years ago while driving to college with his parents. He says, “I was very interested in agriculture and sustainability and thinking a lot about permaculture and the ways in which natural systems could be mimicked. The idea of a perennial polyculture is based in the same thoughts and ideals, so it struck me. The concept of crop breeding, however, and how it will be used to help mitigate or solve different kinds of environmental issues was not yet clear to me. Now that I’ve learned a thing or two about genetics, soils, and nutrient cycling it all makes a lot more sense. Based on my agricultural, biological, and sustainability interests, I really don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that could have drawn me in like TLI.”



What TLI perennial crop do you look forward to eating most, and how would you prepare it?

I’m very excited to try Brandon’s alfalfa grain. The alfalfa in the greenhouse has some of the sweetest flowers I’ve ever smelled, and if that intensity of flavor/fragrance carries into the seed, I can’t imagine a better snack. I am not sure what the edible seeds are projected to look like; if they are going to need soaking and boiling like a bean, or if they’re going to be something better suited to toasting or being milled. However, my gut tells me that alfalfa grain is going to be an excellent addition or base for a granola or cereal, or a nice addition to a cobbler crust (maybe taking the place of oats?). I think I’d use alfalfa grain to make the crust of a pie.

What would people never guess that you do as part of your role at TLI?

At this point in time, commercial Kernza® products are still uncommon. However, there are a few varieties of Kernza beer that may be purchased by the public. They are relatively new and unknown products, but the market is saturated.  And so…we have to work very hard here at TLI to keep the world’s supply of this beer low, so that we can maintain scarcity and demand. This work generally falls on the interns. When drinks are served at important TLI dinners, conferences, BBQs, and other functions, Kernza beer is usually a part of the selection…and I feel that I can speak on behalf of all of the interns when I say that when Kernza beer is available, we feel personally obligated to drink it. Not only does it feel wrong and dishonest to drink “annual beverages” at a place so committed to perenniality, there is an added moral pressure that comes from the scientists. It may be unspoken, but it is palpably there. Drinking a standard lager or wheat beer, it’s not uncommon to look up from your plate and see Lee “King Kernza” DeHaan staring into your soul. A look that that seems to say, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” And boy does that make me feel low. So… l tend to avoid annual beverages like regular beer, milk, or even pop or water. At TLI, we drink “Crankcase” or “Long Root” when we’re dry. I see supply reduction as one of our more important duties here at TLI and I’d be selling myself and all of the interns short if I didn’t say that we work hard to do our part.

What else are you passionate about (outside of work)?

I love music, as do most of the TLI interns. Somehow, 11 out of the 13 interns this year play instruments and have brought them to TLI. It’s been a lot of fun making music with and teaching/learning from them.

What’s your motto / favorite quote?

“It took us that long to realize that a purpose of  human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”- Malachi Constant, Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)


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