Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Marya Merriam Land Institute Intern

Marya Merriam


Marya grew up on an organic vegetable farm in central Vermont and is currently studying Environmental Biology with a minor in Dance at Columbia University in New York City. She loves the Kansas skies, but misses the mountains of Vermont. She chose her major as the best way to study ecology, food systems and the effects of human interactions with both. At The Land, she gravitates toward to physical tasks outdoors in the field over lab work.


What’s been most inspiring about your time at The Land Institute?

It is inspiring to see the beginning of an agriculture system with few inputs. I am very excited about the potential for intercropping as a nutrient and weed management strategy. I think this is important as we will be eventually forced away from the luxury of relying on fossil fuel energy in agriculture. I’m also excited about the potential for increasing soil organic matter, again in the face of climate change.

What would people never guess that you’ve done as part of your role?

To cross pollinate specific Silphium plants, two heads are bagged together and maggots are inserted into the bags. When the maggots mature into flies, they walk around and pollinate the two heads. I’ve put a lot of refrigerated maggots into bags of Silphium heads. It sounds gross, but I enjoy this task for the novelty and ability to be outside.

What drew you to work at The Land?

I am concerned that the combination of climate change and our unsustainable food system will cause an apocalypse. I am trying to prevent or mitigate this disaster and the number of people it will harm (whether it comes from water pollution, an inability to grow enough food because of deteriorating land or no longer having fossil fuels, a lack of anyone to grow our food because it isn’t economically viable, antibiotic resistance, increasingly uninhabitable places, or any combination of these things) in both my work and personal life. I think that The Land Institute’s work can mitigate the impending destruction and provide solutions after it occurs. I also appreciate the emphasis at The Land on supporting farmers through transitions and working with them to increase their ability to grow food in an economically sustainable way. This is a long way of saying that I believe large scale destruction is coming. I want as few people’s blood on my hands as possible, and that I think The Land Institute’s work is a step in the right direction.

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

I’m curious about a Kernza® pie crust. I think that the lower gluten content would make the pie flakier and potentially better (since a lot of pie crust making is about trying to keep the gluten relaxed).

Where is your favorite spot or place at The Land Institute?

I am happy anywhere I can go out and hoe! The picture on this page was taken in a Silphium plot in the Indiana plot. That’s arguably the best Silphium plot to hoe because the weeds are well managed and the Silphium is not too tall, but I find hoeing in other places equally as satisfying and fulfilling. I enjoy the physicality of this work and the ability to look back on a row and say, “I did that.”

What’s your motto / favorite quote?

My mother started our vegetable farm after doing farm work with migrant laborers as her high school job, and realizing how hard it is and how poorly we treat the people who do it. She decided that this work was something she couldn’t ask anyone else to do for her. After she told me this story, I have since asked “What can’t you ask anyone else to do for you?” in all of my decisions. I particularly think about this in the context of reducing my own carbon emissions through the work and personal choices that I make. I do not want to ask anyone in our future, less inhabitable world to give up their lives for my decisions.


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