If you’ve been to The Land Institute, you might recognize this artwork, which is painted on the barn where the Prairie Festival is held. This art is a rendition of the central graph of a 50-Year Farm Bill that Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, and Fred Kirschenmann took to Washington DC in 2009.
As Wendell Berry writes in the Atlantic, This bill addresses the most urgent problems of our dominant way of agriculture: soil erosion, toxic pollution of soil and water, loss of biodiversity, the destruction of farming communities and cultures. It addresses these problems by invoking nature's primary law, in default of which her other laws are of no avail: Keep the ground covered, and keep it covered whenever possible with perennial plants.
At present, 80 percent of our farmable acreage is planted in annual crops, only 20 percent having the beneficent coverage of perennials. This, by the standard of any healthy ecosystem, is absurdly disproportionate. Annual plants are nature's emergency medical service, seeded in sounds and scars to hold the land until the perennial cover is re-established. By this rule, our present agriculture, which gives 80 percent of our farmland to annuals, is in a state of emergency.
You can't run a landscape, any more than you can run your life, indefinitely in a state of emergency. To live your life, to live in your place, you have got to bring about a settlement that does not involve you continuously in worry, loss, and grief. And so "A 50-Year Farm Bill" proposes a 50-year schedule by which the present ratio of 80 percent annual to 20 percent perennial would be exactly reversed. The ratio then would be 20 percent annual to 80 percent perennial. And perhaps I need to say plainly here that the perennial crops would be forages and grains. Nobody at present is talking about the possibility of breeding and raising perennial table vegetables, though they should.
This patch and artwork is the central graph showing the decline in annual crops and the stepwise transformation to perennial agroecosystems. The Land Institute has been working to develop perennial agroecosystems for over 30 years. One of their most successful crops is Kernza - a perennial wheatgrass that can be grown in polyculture with alfalfa and other legumes.
The 50-yr Farm Bill can be downloaded here: https://landinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/FB-edited-7-6-10.pdf
In 10,000 AD humanity will look back on this seed as a turning point in civilization. A seed that reimagined our relationship to Earth. A seed that enables food production without flaying the Earth. A seed that grows alongside other complimentary species, like an durable ecosystem. A seed of revolution. Mad Ag is bringing Kernza to the Mountain West. Revolutions come from the margins, which is where Mad Ag loves to operate.