Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


| Our Team

Interview with TLI Staff – Westen Gehring

Western Gehring, Perennial Agriculture Project, Operations Associate

What got you interested in your field of research/work?
I currently work part-time keeping track of the PAP budget and collaborating on the Training Pathways Team, not necessarily a role I saw myself in when I completed my bachelor’s in Biology a couple years ago. Since then, I’ve gained an appreciation for behind-the-scenes work, as well as for the crucial role that communication plays in keeping things moving at The Land Institute. I particularly enjoy working with others to navigate new, tricky problems as programs are shifted to match their context.

What is the Training Pathways Team?
The Training Pathways Team is responsible for administering educational and entry-level pathways into and through The Land Institute. We conduct selections for the Intern program and strategize for the future of educational programs at TLI. One of our members, Siena Polk, is responsible for day-to-day pathways employee coordination.

What brought you to TLI?
As a prospective intern I was drawn to the hope and pragmatism of perennial polyculture research. I spent summer 2019 as an intern and came back for the community.

What is the general timeline of your work throughout the year?
My year really comes to a head between November and February, with the Perennial Agriculture Project Annual Report to the Malone Foundation due at the end of January, and intern selection occurring soon after. The rest of the year is largely maintenance and long-term strategizing.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
It’s been a challenge to step into a new field. I am constantly learning how to better communicate via email about complex situations involving multiple parties or institutions. Working part-time from home can also sometimes be a challenge. I’m still trying to figure out how to switch smoothly between TLI work and other projects throughout the day.

Have you/your team made any important breakthroughs in the last year?
I’m proud of the work that the Training Pathways Team has done to improve the intern experience. The team was formed near the beginning of 2021, and over the course of a couple months we made significant changes to the intern program while also conducting a rigorous selection process. Looking forward, I am excited to help create a more equitable process for getting involved at the Land Institute.

What are your personal research goals for the next 5-10 years related to perennial agriculture?
My goals are pretty broad right now. I’ve learned a lot in my role this past year, and I’ve decided to take some graduate coursework in nonprofit management to better equip myself for the work I’m currently doing, as well as to broaden my skillset. The certificate I’m pursuing will take about a year and a half.

Do you have any personal hobbies/activities/interests outside of work that you would like to mention?
I’m a jazz saxophone player, gigging mostly around Wichita with a combo called Icy Tea Jazz Quartet (unfortunately the pun doesn’t really come across when communicated verbally). I’m also an avid ultimate frisbee player, and I made it onto a club team in Wichita for the first time this year (which I’ve probably told every single person I come across at TLI)!

Support the work of Westen and others at The Land Institute.


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