The Land Institute of Salina, Kan., welcomed autumn by hosting the 34th annual Prairie Festival on Sept. 28-30, 2012. Land lovers across the Midwest traded their biodiesel trucks and solar-powered campers for wooden benches, foldout chairs and hay bales inside the properties' large, unpainted wooden barn. The festival hosted an impressive lineup of environmental and agricultural speakers including author and conservationist Wendell Berry, his daughter Mary Berry, award-winning 'rural reporter' Palagummi Sainath, physicist Eric Gimon, professor David Orr and ecologist Michelle Mack. President and co-founder of The Land Institute, Wes Jackson, spoke Sunday afternoon and was fondly referred to by multiple speakers over the course of the weekend.
The Prairie Festival was kicked off Friday evening with a bonfire, art installation, and barn dance beneath the glowing Harvest moon. The Institute's fruit orchard was home to a colorful spread of tents, and for those with an itch to stretch their legs, trails ambled as far as the eye could see. Saturday's schedule was intermingled with influential speakers, a prairie and bird walk, a musical performance by Grammy-nominated folk singer Eliza Gilkyson, and a local foods dinner. Wendell Berry patiently tended to a long line of fans, while in the spirit of Midwestern hospitality four cast-iron soup kettles simmered enticingly. While eating the locally grown food, fair attendees shared newfound knowledge regarding home energy-efficiency, the importance of land conservation, and the beauty of the prairie.
Personal highlights included hearing Indian journalist Mr. Sainath speak about the horrendous effects of globalization on rural India, including increased farmer suicides and the looming privatization of water. Wendell Berry, in his deep, rumbling Kentucky accent, spoke about the always present tension between agriculture and nature. He poetically described the joys that a walk through the countryside provides and the benefits of being "perennial people."
In the Midwest, where monocrops line the highways and more often than not Monsanto is king, the Prairie Festival was a welcome reminder that there are small-scale organic farmers who want to work with nature, not against it. The Land Institute, with its rolling fields, rustic outbuildings and knowledgeable staff provided the perfect stomping grounds for the event. In the words of Wendell Berry, "At the Land Institute, the standard is nature."
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