Deep Roots

by seth o'donovan

The sky is so wide, the land so vast, the colors are the full spectrum of browns and grays with some sprouting spring green laid like an accent every few miles on the blanket of the hills.  Kansas hasn’t been a destination for many people in our social circles – often talked about as a state that you are forced to drive through to get to somewhere else and part of the “flyover” states of the Midwest – but we’ve been being called out in our study of the history of agriculture in the U.S. on our dismissal of this landscape, this land, and its people.  Joe and I had some laughing moments before we left for our planned visit to The Land Institute in Salina, KS about how we’d never experienced Kansas as a destination before, but we were both feeling so excited about the trip.  Laughing at ourselves and our own growth and surprise at our own perspective shifts is something we consider a healthy marker of change and one that we value in the ethos of The Guest House. 

We spent a hot March afternoon with the folks at The Land Institute – an organization dedicated to research on perennial grains and their viability for replacing annual grains in the landscape of U.S. agriculture.  Every aspect of their work that they educated us on and demonstrated for us in the greenhouse, in their farm fields, and in their research labs caused tiny explosions in my head about the potential of the work of The Guest House.  Is there a viable option for a perennial oil seed plant in the Colorado landscape?  Would an inter-planted landscape of grain be possible at high-altitude?  Are there limits to the viability of no-till practice on a functioning farm that serves a restaurant?  What are the implications for baking & brewing with perennial grains?  And Joe’s eternally inspired chef-mind question: can I start practicing with that flour right now?!  The questions in this endeavor are limitless and building relationships with people, like those at the Institute, is so fortifying to our spirits and our minds in this work.

One of the themes that drew out over the course of our trip was the idea of deep roots. Tim at the Institute pointed out that we’ve become very accustomed to not thinking about roots.  They are unseen, impact on them isn’t in the realm of our vision, and focus is most often on the result of the root system – the plant above ground.  The cost of not thinking about roots, however, is high.  They are the structure that literally holds the land together.  They determine a plant’s viability during any time of adversity or challenge: drought, mineral deficiency, wind, or flood.  They resource the plant through highly developed intelligence for its life above ground.  It is why perennial approach to the land is so important, because deep roots are only developed over seasons, years, and varying weather conditions.  Our vision around land that we wish to endure through years and generations requires a perennial approach; an ask of questions to ourselves about what will the impact of this moment be on the plant and the land five years or fifty years out, which is really different than our current dominant approach of asking what I want for dinner in August. 

We also spent a lot of time talking about applications of ‘deep roots thinking’ to ourselves as people and as social groups.  Because Joe and I are interested in building for decades and having an impact on generations, we find ourselves asking questions about the implications of how we are thinking, interacting, and working now on the larger ethos and culture and work of The Guest House.  Who are we in the first season of building relationship with and how do we build those as perennial relationships?  What does it mean to build relationship and work that stands the test of drought, flood, mineral deficiency, and wind?  Who will we be sitting at a table with for dinner in twenty years and how do we sustain the deep roots of our individual lives to show up at that table vibrant and fruitful?  And while we honor the multiple needs of our life-systems – there are plants meant for a season [tomatoes] and there are plants meant for a lifetime [grape vines] – ‘Deep Roots Practice’ is our newest explicit endeavor, both on the land and in our own lives. 


To join us for more deep roots exploration:

April 3rd, Volcano Dinner in Denver

April 24th, Roaring Fork Dinner in Aspen

April 25th, History of US Agriculture Timeline Workshop in Denver

seth o'donovan