Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Mercedes Santiago

Greenhouse Specialist

Mercedes Santiago has spent most of her life in eastern Kansas. Born in Topeka, raised in Manhattan, and a repeat resident of Lawrence, Mercedes’ time on the prairie has been punctuated by stints in Northern Virginia, Washington State, and the UK. Her other home is in Puerto Rico, where her family resides and where her ancestors have worked on the land for as many generations back as they can trace. Her heart dwells in both these places: the misty mountain forests of the island Boriken and the windy flint hills of Kansas.

Mercedes started undergrad as an art student working on illustration. Eventually, she graduated from Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and minors in English, Gender Studies, and Anthropology. During Mercedes’ time at Kansas State University, she was accepted into the KSU Ecological Genomics Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program and, for several years, worked as a researcher in a plant systematics lab. Though Mercedes values her academic education, her most powerful education has been on the land, working at various small farms and participating in the food justice community.


What drew you to The Land Institute?

Early in my farmhand days, I told a coworker that I’d never work in a lab again unless it was for The Land Institute. The Land Institute operates through a land ethic and lens of perennial optimism that appeals to my values. The same drives pushed me first into the sciences, then out of the laboratory, and into the fields.

What experiences are most relevant to your position at The Land Institute?

My work with small farms helped ground and enrich the theoretical knowledge I acquired in college. Farming helped toughen me up and fed my longtime desires for variety, movement, and working in close relationships with plants. Participating in the food system at the labor level also helped me glimpse the complex networks necessary to ensure that the land and the people are nourished with minimal waste, showing how much potential there is and how much work we have yet to do.

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

I am in the company of agroecological visionaries!

What would people never guess you do as part of your role at The Land Institute?

A farmer once told me that “farming is mostly moving things from one place to another.” Ecology has been similar, and what we’re moving is soil and plant material.

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

I have a major sweet tooth, so I look forward to any pastries made from perennial crops from The Land Institute.

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

I love folklore, myth, ghost stories, playing Dungeons and Dragons, day hikes, making weird crafts, foraging wild medicine, writing, communing with flowers, and nighttime walks with my dog.

What were you like at age 10?

I was scrawny, scrappy, bookish, willful, and moody.

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