Woohoo super long post from back in December – i had no idea i had so much to write about Kansas…

The past 2 months have found me not enjoying writing – my own fault bc I defaulted to simply cataloguing our travels and interviews without commenting on what we are finding and how we feel about it. How I feel about it. So – here’s what was exciting about Kansas! – curl up with coffee and enjoy…it’s a long one…

GREENSBURG, KS.
Bob Berkobile, architect extraordinaire at BNIM Architects, helped bring about awareness that led to LEED certification for buildings in America. Bob was happy to talk to us about the amount of green building that is happening in Kansas City but what he was MORE interested in was sending us to Greensburg, KS, a community laid flat by an F5 Tornado, May 4, 2007, that is asking to be rebuilt apropos to its name – green – or at least greener than it was. (Here is a link to NPR’s All Things Considered special called “Kansas Town’s Green Dreams Could Dave Its Future.”) As far as we know this is the 1st time a team of architects and city planners have been handed the opportunity to literally redesign a town from scratch (excepting New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina, where the damage was so extensive and the need for assistance so immediate that time for building green was not available and is only now being seriously considered). The majority of the townspeople are still waiting in FEMA trailers on the outskirts of the old neighborhoods for the rebirth of Greensburg as an example of truly sustainable development.

We drove down to this tiny little town, and were met by a charming young woman named Alanna, whose home and consignment shop were flattened by the twister. Alanna toured us around a devastated landscape of trees cut off at the knees and some crumbled foundations, open basements and rubble where the neighborhood once was. She told us that not everybody there is interested in going green, bc not everybody understands what “green” really means, and some are not certain it will take…

The hope is that rebuilding Greensburg sustainably might actually infuse some life back into the town. Like many older towns in the southern midwest, Greensburg was considered to be a “dying” town – its young people leaving as soon as possible with no intention of returning. Residents hope that the new Greensburg might bring new businesses and create a viable economy, attracting new citizens to town as well as bringing back some of its young people. (Discovery channel is also stationed there to document the greening of Greensburg, as long as that may take.) We are happy to report that Alanna is encouraged and staying put!

LAWRENCE, KS:
The Local Scene – Our wonderful host, Tom Fox, hooked us up with a young man named James Roberts. James, an Environmental History student at KU, brought us to breakfast at a local cafe near the University, where we joined a tableful of passionate, interested, and concerned students – business majors, architects, engineers, and ecologists who were happy to be put on film. Next, James took us to a little shop that sells bags in association with the KU Reusable Bag Program, and then on to one of the culinary highlights of our trip so far – and I expect I may get flack for this one – Local Burger.

What is Local Burger, you might ask, and why would someone who is trying to be environmentally conscious be supporting an establishment where the main product is meat? Well, it was delicious. Are you not moved? I had no intention of eating any meat there when I met adorable owner Hilary Brown, no matter how fresh her alternative to fast food. But what intrigued me about Local Burger is that the food is entirely organic and all of the meat locally sourced, grass-fed and grass-finished on farms that Hilary visits on a regular basis (no feedlots, antibiotics or hormones here).

Once we pled vegetarianism, Hilary kindly brought us out some quinoa burger bites with her special sauce. They were gone within moments. She brought us more. We finished those too. Then Hilary discovered I was pregnant and she insisted that this meat was especially good protein for the baby, being so fresh and free of hormones, antibiotics and stress (as the animals are offed by a sharpshooter and die without even knowing what hit them). So, what do you think happened? I ate an elk burger. Immediately, with cheese and extra pickles, and it may have been the most delectable thing I have eaten so far on this trip. Thank you, Elk, for becoming part of me and my little one. You had a happy life free to roam all around eating grass, like you were meant to do, and I am so thankful for your life.

I should mention that Ben, although mostly committed to being a vegetarian for this trip, made a major exception to support this establishment. OK not just to support the establishment – he was salivating over my elk cheeseburger and my unexpectedly delirious reaction to it. I did’t blame him. It was better than any burger i have ever had. Absolutely everything that we ate at Local Burger was beyond delicious. Hilary is an amazing chef who really cares that the food is real good, and real good for you. We were pleased to support this wonderful totally local alternative to fast food but I realize there is an important question here: Can the supply of locally-sourced, organically-raised meat keep up with increasing demand as the population grows or is the only answer for a rising population to let go of raising animals on land that can be used to grow food directly for people? Something to think about…

***OH – One particularly important thing happened in Kansas this year – For the first time, a community effectively stopped a coal-fired power plant from going forward! Our new friend, James, was part of a large group of students and townspeople who joined together to oppose new coal power plants from being built in Kansas, by voicing their concerns at a public commentary. Public hearings had to be held another day to accommodate them. Public opinion was so strong against the plants that they were denied permits. We think this is the 1st time a coal plant has been denied a permit based on CO2’s being judged a pollutant!!! Go, Kansas!

THE LAND INSTITUTE, Salina, KS:
We finally got to Salina and Wes Jackson (brilliant botanical geneticist and all around regular good guy). This was our 1st originally scheduled KS interview that got hammered by ice and snow…SO Exciting!!! Wes talks about changing the way we grow food in order to be a truly sustainable society. He has been working for 30 yrs on creating food crops which are perennials instead of annuals, designed to be hardy year after year without having to be resewn, refertilized, renurtured with the great lot of inputs that are believed to be required now. John Schmidt showed us all around the greenhouse and here Ben and John are making angels in the snow…

Jackson also believes in polycrops, to be sewn in one field and harvested altogether. He is confident this can be done, and has a perennial grain that is almost farmer-ready…but thinks it won’t be ready to sew commercially for possibly 20 yrs. Oh! Do we have the time? Uncertainly isn’t keeping Wes Jackson from doing his work. It’s so cool! Thank you, Wes…

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