Salina, Kansas, 2030. After a dry winter and wet spring, we are in the heart of summer. Wheat farmers in the region are mostly done harvesting. The harvest was strained, but still productive. The acres with perennial Kernza® and wheat fared better. In the western U.S., annual fires again limit fruit and vegetable production. The Salina grocery is thin on cherries this year, but local plums and mulberries make for delicious pies and jams and bring sweetness to the local culinary scene. Cattle graze across pastures, and bees are busy visiting silphium blooms.
The Land Institute campus is alive with activity. More than 100 employees, interns and visiting students and researchers are all diligently working on an ecological grain agriculture that’s diverse and perennial. Their joyful daily bustle and depth of conversation previews Prairie Festival, the yearly “intellectual hootenanny” hosted in a dirt-floor barn in late September.
The expanded Salina campus feels modest and authentic to the prairie landscape–embodying the values and reality of the perennial revolution. Laboratories and greenhouses are sufficient to house leading-edge research. Offices and meeting spaces enable creative collaboration across continents, with indoor and outdoor venues for gathering constituents and partners and learning with the land.
Amidst the swirl of activity, staff and visitors pause regularly in awe of the natural world, including the dance of humanity. A tour group looking across Wauhob Prairie remembers The Land Institute’s first half-century as an organization, in the long view of agriculture’s emergence in places around the world. As they process samples, technicians are also talking through the details of the latest mainstream media piece on a policy proposal to advance social and economic transformation for a perennial future. A visiting scientist presents a seminar about the cultural stories and scientific data being shared by civic scientists who are growing a novel perennial grain crop candidate, and another explains their post-fossil fuel strategy for ecological intercropping research with equitable market development, now that Kernza®, perennial wheat, and perennial rice are producing food on millions of acres across the globe.
Ignited by The Land Institute, a diverse movement is developing and deploying perennial grains and polyculture cropping systems for all of the grain-producing soils of the world with the communities who steward and are nourished by them.
Domestically, the movement includes a consortium of friends and collaborators: transdisciplinary researchers and scientists at universities; NGOs, corporations, and governments; Indigenous nations of North America; regional and national farm societies; growers associations and co-ops; civic scientists, teachers, and students; farm worker organizations; rural communities; urban advocacy groups; social and racial justice organizations; land trusts and land reformation movements.
Land Institute scientists are published and cited frequently and serve as expert witness to governments, industry, and the general public as they grapple with an agriculture and society coming back down to earth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s innovation report prominently features perennial polyculture agriculture. Governments in China, Sweden, France and Uganda have joined the movement and are committing funds to localized perennial grain development. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognizes, advocates, and invests in perennial grains as a key to climate mitigation and food security in a warming climate. Land Institute staff are preparing to present the projections of possibility for perennial grain futures at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP35.
Internationally, there are now ten formalized hubs of perennial grain research, housing nearly a thousand researchers and technicians in a decentralized network. Each hub is deeply connected with its place—the soil, the people, the history—and is designed for resilience in a changing climate. The hubs are also connected through a root-like network infrastructure built by The Land Institute. They share data, findings, methodologies, germplasm and talent–ensuring that as the viability of any one growing site changes, the research can migrate and the work will continue across generations.
This is all science fiction, of course. It is impossible to predict with precision what 2030 will look like, how climate change will have progressed, or how societies will have been willing to transition to a low-carbon future. But what we do know is that an agriculture that functions like a natural ecosystem, featuring diversity and perenniality, is the best chance we have to feed ourselves sustainably over millennia. We can choose what we do between now and 2030.
At The Land, we will be putting all of our current and newly acquired energies toward transforming agriculture, perennially. A complete acre-for-acre transformation will not be possible, but if we are successful, by 2030 the collective mind of the (currently dominant) agro-industrial complex will have been turned toward the ecological, perennial imperative. This will require growth and development of our effort that has already been set in motion.
In our vision for 2030, governments, funders, researchers, farmers, brokers, chefs, brewers, retailers, and consumers who engage in today’s grain agriculture, will have shifted focus from an annual paradigm to the necessity for a perennial future. Many people who aren’t meaningfully engaged in today’s annual grain agriculture will grasp the meaning of perennial grain agriculture and will have joined the movement to advance it. They will not yet all be growing, making, or eating perennial grains. But they will have collectively begun to understand and advocate for the possibility of eating and living within ecological limits in a just and equitable way. They will see that a perennial future uses less, but provides more. More in the way of wonder and beauty and the richness of a community of animals (including humans), plants, and soils in a creative ecosphere.
If you are reading this, you are already part of this future and we are grateful for your contributions to the work. Your sharing, learning, financial support, attention, and advocacy are necessary and appreciated. Now it is time to intensify the energy to expand and accelerate the promise of perennials at a global scale. We look forward to doing this together.
Rachel Stroer, President