High Altitude Society: Betty Ford Alpine Gardens gets to the root of the world food dilemma | VailDaily.com

High Altitude Society: Betty Ford Alpine Gardens gets to the root of the world food dilemma

Carolyn Pope
High Altitude Society
From left: Doe Browning, Jack Hunn and Executive Director Nicola Ripley at the annual member breakfast in the Gardens.
Carolyn Pope | Special to the Daily

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens hosted its annual patron breakfast June 27. The morning was chilly but beautiful as the staff at the Gardens decided to cast off the fashion show they used to run annually for some down-to-earth education that stays true to the gardens’ mission.

Tim Crews, director of research and lead scientist in ecology for the Land Institute, provided an informative mini-lecture on what the Land Institute does. Based out of Salina, Kansas, the nonprofit completes science-based research organization and is working to develop an alternative to current destructive agricultural practices. The group is dedicated to advancing perennial grain crops and polyculture farming solutions.

Crews’ big question is how are we going to continue to feed 9.7 billion people in 2050 — the current global population around 7.7 billion — without destroying our earth? The problem with our current agricultural plan, Crews explained, is that it takes a short-term/high-yield approach that is dependent on heavy chemical applications and petroleum consumption and leads to soil erosion and degradation.

Farmers just can’t turn over crops every year and keep soil rich in nitrogen. It’s not possible to just keep fertilizing barren soil because the fertilizer and nitrogen will run off to create “dead zones” in our waterways. Crews said the answer is in perennial, deep-rooted grains that enrich the soil and continue to produce our food, without the ensuing environmental damage.

Yep, it’s all about deep roots, not shallow, scrawny roots like those that anchor our wheat crops. The Land Institute does have a grain it is working with — a plant called kernza. Patagonia — yes, the outdoor clothing outfitter — has even started a beer with the grain: Patagonia Long Root Ale.

Guests enjoyed a scrumptious catered brunch, along with ginger prosecco that Kevin and Sally Clair donated. One of Vail’s most generous ladies, newlywed Doe Browning, underwrote the breakfast.

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens have an ambitious educational exhibit going on through Nov. 2 at their education center at Ford Park. “Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots” is a powerful visual display featuring 20-foot-long roots hanging from the floor to the ceiling grown at the Land Institute in Kansas. The exhibit features detailed interpretation exploring the critical dilemma of how we will feed the growing planet sustainably. The Gardens are the first botanic institute to recreate the U.S. Botanic Garden’s most popular 2015 exhibit on the same concept. National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson created panels now installed in the education center and in the gardens, which highlight the hidden world of roots.

For more information about the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, visit http://www.bettyfordalpinegardens.org.