Why the CRH at KWU?
Matt Thompson, President and CEO, KWU
May 21, 2023
Nearly a decade ago, I moved to Kansas to become president of Kansas Wesleyan. Dr. Wes Jackson was one of the first community members I met. He was a KWU graduate, faculty emeritus, and founder and president emeritus of The Land Institute. I had done my research and realized what an icon of agricultural thinking he was and still is. It was a challenging and rewarding visit. We spent several hours together as he shared with me his work and toured me around the acres and labs of The Land Institute. A friendship and colleagueship developed, and in the coming years, I attended the institute’s annual Prairie Festival. I was intrigued and inspired to read and examined more.
Our conversations and my reflections led me to realize that we were not doing enough at KWU to help prepare our students to understand the realities they will inherit as they go into the world. Further, we were not doing enough to provide them with the best and healthiest food. We also weren’t recognizing the sacrifices farmers are making to produce our food, including the mental, emotional, physical, and fiscal challenges they endure.
Wes and I began to explore the idea of educational opportunities to help KWU students and the surrounding community begin to understand where their food comes from, how it is grown and the effect that work has on our planet. The last few years have been a journey of approach and change. We’ve come a long way on that journey; we’ve talked to a lot of experts and farmers; we have read countless research studies, articles and books; and we have visited several projects in the U.S. and in other countries whose work centers on implementing regenerative agricultural practices.
Sustainable or regenerative agriculture is not a new concept or model. It is a re-emerging, time tested practice that our ancestors just did because they understood the connections between farming, the natural world, human life and wellness. It was about working with nature to our own benefit, rather than working against nature or trying to bend and shape it to our human will.
Our resilience as human beings and as communities, or in other words, our ability to bounce back and thrive in the face of setbacks, both human-caused and natural disasters, is severely compromised. This became more evident to me as the pandemic wore on and our healthcare systems were struggling, and supply chain issues were increasing the price of food and decreasing its accessibility. This was not just an issue for the people who are most vulnerable among us – though they were disproportionately affected – we were ALL in it, experiencing the fear and the reality that there is so much beyond our control that we are simply not equipped to navigate today. I realized how vulnerable we all are here in Kansas – over 90% of the food we consume is not produced here in our state. This is even more concerning when we realize that most of our food comes from California where there are significant water droughts, fueled by climate change. We cannot feed ourselves without the imports that allow us to eat. That’s scary to me.
This realization strengthened my commitment to advancing the movement toward becoming a more resilient community and evolved into a broader, more holistic vision that we call the Community Resilience Hub at KWU. We believe that helping make the transition toward sustainable agriculture is a key piece of building resilience in our community and our state.
While there are things beyond human control, there are actions we can take to decrease human vulnerability and that of our communities and our planet, so we are focusing on what we do best at KWU– education. We are partnering academic education with practical, applicable capacity building to prepare a new generation of farmers, advocates, and change agents who understand regenerative agriculture and what it takes to build resilience. By working together, we can ensure a healthier, more resilient future for all of us by creating space for dialogue and inspiring action.