Archive for Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Former Westar chief, wife give rural Lawrence farmstead to Salina-based Land Institute

July 30, 2013

The Salina-based environmentalist agriculture group The Land Institute is beginning to work more closely with Kansas University scientists, and now that work is about to become a lot easier.

The group, led by a KU alumnus who received an honorary doctorate from the university this year, announced Monday it had received a donated 65-acre farmstead just northwest of Lawrence, which it will use as a research area and gathering place.

The gift comes from Jim Haines, who retired in 2007 as CEO of Westar Energy, and his wife, Cindy. They will leave the rural property, appraised at $1.2 million, to move into Lawrence.

“This is big for us,” said Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute. “This opens up so many options that we currently don’t have out there in Salina.”

That includes easy access to KU scientists and students, he said.

The Land Institute already earlier this year launched a cooperative research effort with KU, Kansas State University and the Konza Prairie. Having a research site only minutes away from KU, rather than hours away in Salina, will only make that easier.

KU researchers will help with the institute’s research on perennial grains, which Jackson says would help decrease soil erosion, reduce chemical use and lower carbon emissions if they could replace the annual grain crops commonly used in agriculture, which die and must be replanted each year.

The partnership with KU will also allow the institute to educate and train graduate and undergraduate students who could someday themselves become researchers focusing on this kind of agriculture, designed to resemble the natural ecosystem of a prairie.

“It’s going to help a lot, because of the knowledge that is within the universities that can be applied, and also the chance for people to be trained and educated,” Jackson said.

The property includes a 3,000-square-foot stone-built home built in the 1880s, listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places as the Gorrill Farmstead, as well as 50 acres of farmland, where the institute will further study perennial grains.

“It’s a wonderful place,” said Jim Haines, who has lived on the property since 2003.

Haines said that he and his wife, Cindy — who reviews movies for the Kansas City public radio station KCUR — realized after they heard about the planned collaboration among the universities and the institute that their property could be a big help.

“We follow what the institute is doing, and we’ve always been very impressed with the vision that Wes Jackson has,” Haines said.

The Lawrence farmstead will become The Land Institute’s largest piece of property outside of its Salina headquarters, but those headquarters are not moving, Jackson said.

Jim Haines said he and Cindy had gotten more involved with farming since moving to the rural property and supported Jackson’s push for more sustainable practices.

“We think that’s a noble cause, and we’d like to be a part of it if we can be,” Haines said.

Jackson founded the group in 1976, and though it hasn’t yet developed seeds that it can give to farmers to use for crops — it’s working on developing larger yields — it’s getting closer, Jackson said.

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