Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Westen Gehring

Grants Specialist

Westen Gehring came to Salina as an intern the summer of 2019 from Bethel College after graduating with degrees in biology and music performance. He recently finished a masters in Music Performance, dedicated to jazz saxophone. He now lives in Wichita, but his immediate family are all based in Canada, where he largely grew up. He says Kansas has held onto him long enough that he’s beginning to feel as at home here as anywhere else. His experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Wichita State University helped prepare him for his current position of keeping track of the Perennial Agriculture Project budget and communicating the awarding of grants. Westen says, “It’s exciting to be able to participate in a project that has done so much to fund perennial agriculture research around the country. The last five years have seen dramatic growth in this field, and the Perennial Agriculture Project has played an integral role in that process.”


What drew you to work at TLI?
I love the way that hard work, community and ideology interact here, with researchers, administrators, interns, residents, and other staff all working together to provide real solutions to a problem that has been growing for thousands of years. Being here and getting to participate in some of the work has given me a small sense of both the magnitude and the possibility of a perennial agriculture.

What would people never guess that you do as part of your role at TLI?
I spend a fair amount of time considering word-choice in correspondence. As an intern last summer I found myself standing knee-deep in a watery pit for an afternoon, carefully wielding a ball-point pen to pick chunks of dirt out of an emerging network of Kernza roots.

What else are you passionate about (outside of work)?
There’s almost nothing I love doing more than playing ultimate frisbee. Contenders for this top position include making music with others and reading.

If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
I still haven’t completely shaken the dreams of my 10-year-old self (having written and abandoned significant portions of multiple novels during the intervening years). Influences on these projects (to a nearly plagiaristic degree) include J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Scott Bakker. If I wrote a book, it would definitely still fall into the sci-fi/fantasy category.

What were you like at age 10?
I was quite competitive, but I also loved winning from an under-dog’s position (leading to a lot of frustrating games). I sketched a lot and read voraciously. I promised myself that I would become a self-illustrated fantasy novelist when I grew up (which, in my mind, was by the time I turned 15).

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