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Drink Up to Draw Down

by Birgit Cameron, Managing Director, Patagonia Provisions
Kern Ducote

We brew two small-batch craft beers: Long Root® Pale Ale, with grapefruit-hop flavors and a dry, crisp finish, and Long Root® Wit, a spin on the classic Belgian-style witbier, made with coriander and orange peel. Both are top of class—Long Root Pale Ale even won a national Good Food Award in 2019.

But the real story isn’t about the delicious refreshment in each can. It’s about the grain we source to make these beers.

We’d known about Kernza® and the work of Wes Jackson and The Land Institute for years. Founded by Wes in 1976 Salina, Kansas, the institute explores how to farm with perennials, a radical idea that combines grain yield with the ecological stability of wild plants. Mainstream food crops are annuals, including the standard beer grains—barley mainly, but also wheat, corn and rice. They require replanting every year, and when that happens, carbon and nitrogen escape back into the atmosphere and topsoil erodes. Most wild plants are perennials, staying in place from year to year and leaving the soil undisturbed, but they don’t produce much food.

Kernza, a perennial, is a kind of poster child for regenerative agriculture. Its massive, beardlike roots can reach 12 feet in length, at least twice the depth of conventional wheat. These mighty roots keep topsoil in place, host millions of beneficial microbes, and pull down carbon from the atmosphere, locking it up in the earth. And Kernza’s slender grains have a wonderful nutty, spicy flavor.

By the time we met Wes and his team in 2013, they’d been working on Kernza for decades to increase the size and yield of the grain. For them, bringing a product to market still seemed half a lifetime away. But we are in business to support food that regenerates the earth, and we saw Kernza as an immediate force for change. How could we help drive the development and growth of this remarkable plant, which could pave the way for perennializing all sorts of other edible grains? We wanted it to go big. We wanted to scale, to drive change. How best to get it there?

Beer was the answer. We could use the limited supplies of Kernza for flavor and spice, in combination with barley for the body of the brew. Hopworks UrbanBrewery (HUB), in Portland, Oregon, was a natural partner for us. A fellow B-corp, they are the first Salmon-Safe certified brewery in the Pacific Northwest—and they make really, really good beer.

In 2016, we launched Long Root Pale Ale, the first product to ever be made with Kernza. Last year we released Long Root Wit. Both drive demand for more Kernza—and fund more planting, more research. But the best part is seeing Kernza achieve liftoff on a wider scale. General Mills is now planting it, for use in cereals and possibly beyond. And we’re seeing plots of Kernza on farms across the United States and in Europe, too.

We believe that Kernza can prove out the work of The Land Institute—that perennials make brilliant sense for farming that regenerates the earth. HUB founder and brewer Christian Ettinger says, “Kernza is paving the way, hopefully, for future discussions with other commodity grains that we use to brew.” This amazing grain could help drive a paradigm shift in the way we grow everything from wheat to rice—the foundations of the human diet.

When you crack open a Long Root beer, you’re drinking to the future.

 

Long Root® Pale Ale and Long Root® Wit are small batch brews, so they can be tough to find. But it’s well worth the effort, or even a road trip.

Here's Where to Buy them.