Can the Climate-Friendly Grain Kernza Finally Hit the Big Time?
At Bang Brewing in St. Paul, Minnesota, co-owner Sandy Boss Febbo keeps an 18-foot-long poster on the wall with photos of two grasses and their excavated roots. The first is a wheat plant and its roots measure about a foot long. The plant other is Kernza, a perennial grain with roots that measure over three feet long.
Boss Febbo points to the photos whenever she wants to explain the key ingredient in the hoppy yet easy-drinking Kernza IPA she serves. While most of her customers have never heard of Kernza, the long roots in the poster help her explain the value of perennial grains, which don’t need to be planted fresh every spring. Instead, they can grow year in and year out, and develop incredibly long roots that help prevent erosion, retaining water, and sequestering carbon, an important boon for climate mitigation. Perennials could prove especially important in the decades to come, as new research has shown that the carbon held in place by roots underground accounts for nearly half of the planet’s total carbon storage.
Kernza is the product of decades of research by The Land Institute, which is developing other perennial crops in hopes of helping “displace the industrial, disruptive system of agriculture.” And 10 years after the research institute trademarked it, it’s proving to be a promising ingredient.
“It works in beer, it works in crackers, pasta, salads, and bread—and it’s delicious,” says Boss Febbo. She’s also confident that when more people learn about the grain’s environmental benefits, “they’ll realize it’s a no-brainer.”