With friends last year at The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival

in learning to live sustainably,
is being around
and hearing those
who inspire.
Every year,
the last week of September
is our time of renewal.
We always go to the Prairie Festival
at the Land Institute
outside of Salina, Ks.
Along with hundreds of others
who care deeply
and work sacrificially
to learn nature’s processes
and how humanity can live
in an integrated,
sustainable way,
we listen to amazing scientists,
philosophers, writers, artists, farmers
as they share their learnings.
This year,
presenters include:
Brian Donahue, Brandeis University, author of “The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord”
Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute, author of “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality”
Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”
David R. Montgomery, University of Washington and author of “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations”
As always, the final presentation (following the two days of presentations and contra dancing, art show, concert by our favorite Ann Zimmerman and local foods, including a desert made with Kanza flour, resulting from The Land Institute’s continuing work at developing perennial grains and seeds) is made by The Land’s founder, Wes Jackson, who always inspires our work for another year, at least.

There is a difference this year.
Ann will be attending the Prairie Festival,
as usual.
But I, Pat, will forgo this profound experience
(Ann will bring home stories, notes and recordings)
to attend another inspiring event
with another amazing gathering of people
who care about the planet
and a panel of inspiring and extremely knowledgeable presenters.
This conference is closer to home,
at Oklahoma City University—
Caring for our HOME:
Educating Moral Leaders for Ecological Sustainability.
Presenters include:
Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of the Boston University School of Religion, and author of several books, including Ministering with the Earth
David W. Orr, Oberlin College Professor of Environmental Studies, and author of many books, including Ecological Literacy and Earth in Mind and Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse
Larry Ward, an ordained Christian minister and teacher of Engaged Buddhism. He is director of the Lotus Institute and adjunct faculty at Claremont Graduate University
Daniel Wallach, Executive Director and Founder, Greensburg GreenTown and Catherine Hart, Program Director, Greensburg GreenTown. They will speak about the rebuilding and greening of Greensburg, KS., following its devastation by a tornado.
I am very much looking forward
to this conference
and am glad to get to present
the work of Turtle Rock Farm
as one of the case studies
on how to educate the community
about sustainability.

We always eagerly anticipate
the last week of September.
And this year,
we’re doubly excited
to gather with caring, committed people,
to learn,
to be inspired
to keep up the good work
of living sustainably
within the great web of life.

To register for The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival,
click here.
To register for OCU’s conference,
Caring for Our Home:
Educating Moral Leaders for Ecological Sustainability,
click here.



Every year
upon returning from The Land Institute‘s
annual Prairie Festival
just outside Salina, Kansas,
I am re-energized
to do the great work
of learning to live as part of
an ecosystem.
This year
I needed the input of the speakers
at the prairie festival
more than ever before.
It’s always been inspiring to hear
the geniuses who are improving
the way we live as part of this ecosystem -
always Wes Jackson,
under whose leadership The Land Institute
is doing the profoundly significant work of
developing perennial grains in polycultures.
I’ve needed the inspiration more this year than ever
because the news about the impacts of Earth’s heating
has been hard to face.
Speakers at prairie festival
always give facts as they see them,
albeit with much good humor
and often with some underlying spiritual sense.
This year wouldn’t be any different.
The facts are grim.
Wes Jackson said it at the end of his talk,
“I think we’re in for bad times.
I’m not an optimist,
but I’m hopeful.”
And so it was the job of all speakers
to state the facts of the ecosystem’s need,
especially in the areas they each work,
and find the hope
in how we can respond.
I implore everyone to read about the work of
Josh Farley, professor and fellow
for the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics
at the University of Vermont;
Scott Russell Sanders,
Pulitzer-prize nominated author
whose latest book A Conservationist Manifesto
speaks to a vision of a cultural shift of consumption to caretaking;
Sandra Steingraber,
ecologist, author
and expert on environmental links to cancer and human health;
Kent Whealy,
co-founder and leader of the Seed Savers Exchange;
Wes Jackson
and Wendell Berry.
Here is the venerable Mr. Berry
on reasons for hope:

We can learn where we are.
We can look around us and see.
We have lost much,
and much remains.
We’re not helpless.
We have the ability to understand land health.
We can restore native perennials.

We can see what we need to do and do it.
Conservation is going on.
We can use land skillfully, frugally
and with affection.

We could benefit from leadership
and educational institutions
but we are learning from active groups,
from the bottom up.
Because of these efforts,
some things are changing
and they can continue to change.

We can have actual conversation,
We should state the specifics of what we know
and admit what we don’t know.

We are working
at living a healthy vision
and aren’t doing it perfectly;
but we can achieve
a unity
of vision and work.

I came away from prairie festival
grateful once again
for great minds
and caring hearts
of the likes of Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson.
And I came away
to face the grim facts
and re-energized
to move forward
on a path
of hope
that we can
stand together
and care
for this beautiful,
and help it live.

The work that is done at The Land Institute
near Salina, Kansas,
is extraordinary.
With the prairie as his teacher,
founder Wes Jackson
is not only teaching the rest of us
how to live sustainably on Earth
but developing new agricultural systems.
For one thing,
he’s developing

Wes Jackson

Every September
The Land Institute
hosts a prairie festival
with outstanding lectures
by the country’s best scholars and practitioners.
This year,
to celebrate its 35th year,
Jackson has invited his old friend
Wendell Berry
to keynote the weekend.


Land Institute - 350The extensive root systems of perennial grasses spell out
the particles per million of carbon that Earth can sustain.
On the Big Barn at The Land Institute’s annual Prairie Festival
in Salina, Kansas, last weekend. We are already at 390. See 350.org.

These are some of the things we heard at The Land Institute‘s Prairie Festival last weekend:

George Woodwell, senior scientist, Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA., calls the situation we have created on Earth, “climatic disruption” because it’s “far more than warming.” “The living systems of the Earth – the seas, forests, terrestrials; they run the world…We think the biological world is open to easy compromise. It’s not any more open to easy compromise than the law of gravity is open to easy compromise.” The metaphor he uses is the “Haitian abyss,” describing situations in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the situation in Haiti. At this point, neither can simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps and solve their own problems.

It takes a new view of the world to envision a world that will work, he says. We are adding 5 billion tons of carbon to the planet each year above what the sea and plants can absorb. “We can’t just tinker with the old world. We have to have a new world” or we will enter the “Haitian abyss – when we can’t get ourselves out of the situation we’re in.” “We have to move away from fossil fuel. It’s done. We have to decide what else to do. We have to preserve the integrity of the Earth.”

John Todd, ecological designer, founder of Ocean Arks, Intl., and Todd Ecological, Inc.; winner of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for his entry “Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia,” in which he envisions and works toward healing and recovery of horrific mountain removal. In our efforts to solve the ecological problems we have created, he says, we can “learn the language of nature. The prairie knows something I need to know: nature’s operating instructions. I need to learn what it knows that I can apply to my life. It is a lifetime learning.” As one example in his work, Todd tells the stories of using nature’s operating instructions to clean water from toxic waste.

Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute, tells the compelling story of the collapse of the industrial mind and compels us to face and deal with the ecological problems we have created by learning and respecting dynamic ecological systems to “increase our resilience thinking while we still have a little slack.” “Enhance your ability to absorb disturbance.” And he asks: “Do we have the ability to practice restraint?”

It was a deeply meaningful symposium.
Here are people who are giving us the worst possible news.
And showing us ways to create a new world.
It is hopeful, in a we-HAVE-to-get-down-to-business way.
all the little things we do
seem inadequate.
We must do all that -
and more,
not only individually,
but corporately,
as a species,
changing our ways radically,
living within the natural systems
of which we are not independent,
but of which we are a part.
It is inspiring and deeply helpful
to meet people who can and are leading the way.
can we listen
and take their lead?

Story image 1

If you want to be inspired and encouraged about saving the planet, head to The Land Institute‘s Prairie Festival near Salina, KS., Sept. 25-27. It’s one of the highlights of the year… gathering into the big red barn with hundreds of other people, including students, who are trying to do what they can to sustain life on Earth, listening to great speakers who do good things.

Just hearing Land Institute founder Wes Jackson’s talk on Sunday morning is worth the trip. Too, this year, speakers include Richard Harris, NPR science writer; Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times editorial board; Mike Phillips, Yellowstone’s first wolf restoration project director; Dr. John Todd, pioneer in the field of ecological design and engineering; George Woodwell, Director Emeritus, Senior Scientist for Woods Hole Research Center.

The Land Institute was founded by Jackson some 30 years ago to tackle the problems of agriculture. Here’s the mission statement:

When people, land, and community are as one,
all three members prosper;
when they relate not as members
but as competing interests,
all three are exploited.
By consulting Nature as the source
and measure of that membership,
The Land Institute seeks to develop an agriculture
that will save soil from being lost or poisoned
while promoting a community life at once
prosperous and enduring.

Besides the inspiring words at the Prairie Festival, there’s a barn dance, dinner, concert (by our favorite prairie songwriter and singer Ann Zimmerman,) bookstore, prairie walk, camping. Click here for more information and a registration form.

Story image 2

November Sky

For my son Will,
mother, father, sisters, cousins.
For friends,
For water, shelter, food.
For the opportunity to live
on the prairie
under this wide swathe of sky.
For the sun’s appearance in the morning
and colorful disappearance in the evening;
the ability to see the stars at night.
For Kye,
Maisy, Joe,

For seekers and finders who share:
Beatrice Bruteau,
Eckhart Tolle,
Thomas Berry,
Briane Swime,
Wes Jackson,
For the vision and work of the General Board of Global Ministry
of the United Methodist Church.
For Deaconesses and Home Missioners.
For the courage, intelligence and heart of Barack Obama.
For hoping again.

For the discovery
that God is love
and we are too.
For the chance to live it
now that I know…

I give thanks.

Army Worms have come to the wheat land this fall. Moths in the larvae stage (about an inch long, black with vertical, green stripes), they’re interested in the no-till fields – the remains of this year’s wheat crop. And they’re feasting on the volunteer wheat, where we had hoped to graze our cattle. In a matter of days, they suck the chlorophyl out of the tender green wheat plants, leaving wide swathes of dead white plants.

Wheat farmers are in the process of planting next year’s crop of Hard Red Winter wheat, so there is a concern that if it doesn’t get cold enough, the Army Worms will start eating the new crop when it breaks through the soil in another ten days or so.

The timing of this invasion of Army Worms is interesting alongside the inspiring prairie festival we attended last weekend at The Land Institute near Salina, Kansas. For the last 32 years, Wes Jackson and a staff of scientists have been breeding plants to produce edible, perennial grain crops. They are crossing annual Red Winter Wheat with perennial Intermediate Wheatgrass (other projects are sorghums and sunflowers.) The resulting perennial plants will have harvestable, edible grain. In fact, at our supper on Saturday night, we had flour made from Intermediate Wheatgrass grain in our Apple Crisp – evidence that they’re getting closer.

There is a connection between the work at The Land Institute and our current problem with Army Worms. The development of edible perennial wheatgrass that doesn’t have to be planted every year and that has great root development will create a healthier growing environment that isn’t so insect-friendly. In a dramatic presentation at prairie festival, plant breeder and scientist Lee DeHaan, showed us the root development of native Bluestem grass, which is a perennial. Its root system is thick, wide and 20 feet long. The root system of Red Winter Wheat, an annual is thin and only about six feet long. The perennial Intermediate Wheatgrass has a root system comparable to Bluestem.

 intermediate wheat grass


Roots of Bluestem (Perennial)

Roots of Perennial Intermediate Wheatgrass

 red winter wheat

Roots of Red Winter Wheat (Annual)

From The Land Institute:

…natural ecosystems (on land, that almost always means mixtures of perennial species) do better than agriculture and other human-managed systems in converting sunlight into living tissue. The plants that anchor those ecosystems have extensive, long-lived root systems with diverse architectures; they have a longer growing season; and their species diversity protects against epidemics and the vagaries of weather. As a result, they can produce, year in and year out, more biomass per acre than agricultural systems without requiring a subsidy of fossil fuels and other inputs and without degrading soil and water. The goal of our research team is to develop diverse perennial grain production systems that are as ecologically sound as former prairies.

Wes Jackson

At The Land Institute, they say that “soil is more important than oil, and just as non-renewable.” As sobering, frightening and challenging it is to realize the failure of another of our systems, it’s critical that we do, and support the work of those who long-ago came to these conclusions and have courageously pioneered big ideas that provide solutions. In gratitude, we honor and encourage support of the work
of Wes Jackson and The Land Institute.


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