Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Laura van der Pol

Lead Scientist, Soil Ecology

Laura van der Pol, Ph.D, was a long-time resident of Colorado prior to moving to Kansas to join The Land Institute as Lead Scientist in the Soil Ecology Program. Her structured education began when she attended the same school for K-12 in Houston, TX, which gave her some motivation to see a different part of the US for college. Laura studied environmental science at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA, where she received her undergraduate degree. She also had several intensive training courses with the US Coast Guard and became a science teacher in Colorado. Most recently, Laura had the great privilege to study soil ecology at Colorado State University, where she received her Ph.D. Most relevant to The Land Institute is her research studying soil organic matter dynamics in perennial and annual grain agroecosystems. Her work has helped further our understanding of how incorporating legumes into a rotation or as an intercrop, as well as the intermediate wheatgrass Kernza, influences soil organic matter in the semi-arid regions of Colorado and Kansas. Her findings show that Kernza does support soil organic matter accrual, especially compared to annual fields, and that it does so primarily as particulate organic matter (at least initially).


What drew you to work at The Land Institute?

Research can be done in many places and in many ways, but what drew me to The Land Institute is the people, the culture, and the mission. Finding a place with so many brilliant minds working together carefully and intentionally to pursue such an important vision backed by rigorous science – I’ve never come across another place like it. I feel lucky to be part of this team.

What’s most inspiring about your specific position at The Land Institute?

Soil is fundamental and foundational. To achieve a sustainable food system, we need a deep understanding of, appreciation for, and attention to the soil that is the birthplace and home of the plants we eat. What’s inspiring about my job is that I get to live and work in this space, broaden our understanding of perennial grain interactions with soil, and seek to develop and cultivate systems where soils, plants, and people thrive.

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

I’ve eaten Kernza in many forms, and it is delicious. I love bread in almost any form, but the Kernza flour crackers made by the Perennial Pantry were some of the best I’ve had. I am very curious to try silphium; I know it’s been used to make tofu. I imagine it adds some nutty flavors to a stir fry, and I would love to experiment with that.

What’s one aspect of your life’s history that most people don’t know or wouldn’t expect?

After finishing my service in the US Coast Guard in November, I decided to bicycle home to visit my family. I rode 1700 miles between Portland, ME, and Houston, TX (took a couple of bus rides along the way) and made it home in time for the holidays.

What else are you passionate about outside of work?

I’m passionate about gardening, exploring the outdoors, and spending time with family.

What’s your motto/favorite quote?

“For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.” — Xenophanes, 580 B.C. //

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” ~Louisa May Alcott

Support the work of Laura and others at The Land Institute with a donation.



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