1 January 1936 |
|Institutions||The Land Institute
California State University Sacramento
|Alma mater||Kansas Wesleyan University
University of Kansas
North Carolina State University
|Notable awards||Pew Conservation Scholar (1990)
MacArthur Fellow (1992)
Right Livelihood Award
Early life and education
Jackson was born and raised on a farm near Topeka, Kansas. After earning a BA in biology from Kansas Wesleyan University, an MA in botany from the University of Kansas, and a PhD in genetics from North Carolina State University, Wes Jackson established and served as chair of one of the United States' first environmental studies programs at California State University, Sacramento.
Jackson then chose to leave academia, returning to his native Kansas, where he founded a non-profit organization, The Land Institute, in 1976. He still heads The Land Institute, which currently describes its main goal as the development of "Natural Systems Agriculture"; it also publishes The Land Report, a newsletter about American sustainable agriculture and agrarianism.
Work with The Land Institute
The Land Institute explored alternatives in appropriate technology, environmental ethics, and education, but a research program in sustainable agriculture eventually became central to its work. In 1978 Jackson proposed the development of a perennial polyculture. He sought to have fields planted in polycultures, more than one plant in a field, as in nature.
Jackson also wanted to use perennials, which would not need to be replanted every year - leaving soil more intact, preventing erosion, and allowing important relationships between soil and plant to continue. The Land Institute attempts to breed plants not presently used in agriculture into effective producers of perennial grains in intercropping conditions. Jackson argued that this version of agriculture used "nature as model", and to pursue that end The Land Institute has studied prairie ecology.
Current and future work
Entering its third decade, The Land Institute is beginning to demonstrate progress in developing the perennial crops called for in the Natural Systems Agriculture model. Programs in wheat, sorghum, and sunflower are generating crop lines displaying both perenniality and agriculturally-significant seed yield.
Research on integrating these new plants into polycultures also continues. The Land Institute is not itself developing machinery suitable for one-pass harvesting of grain polycultures. It instead takes the position that integration of existing materials separation technology into harvesters is a straightforward task, and will be accomplished by public and private agricultural engineers when the demand arrives.
Wes Jackson is the author of several books and is recognized as a leader in the international sustainable agriculture movement. In 1971, Wes Jackson's first efforts to address growing environmental concerns, react to social concerns growing from the Civil Rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, and answer student requests for more relevant materials resulted in the environmental reader, Man and the Environment. After leaving academia and establishing the Land Institute, Jackson published New Roots for Agriculture, partially in reaction to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office on soil erosion.
This book expanded on ideas presented in an 1978 article, "Towards a Sustainable Agriculture,"  about looking to natural ecosystems, such as the prairie, to help solve the problem of soil erosion. He collaborated with author Wendell Berry, with whom Jackson has shared a longtime friendship and correspondence, on "Meeting the Expectations of the Land," in response to a Council on Agricultural Science and Technology report on agrochemicals.
Jackson's Becoming Native to This Place, published in 1994, challenges readers to develop a relationship with their ecosystems and further develops the idea Natural Systems Agriculture. He was a 1990 Pew Conservation Scholar, in 1992 became a MacArthur Fellow, and in 2000 received the Right Livelihood Award. His work is often referred to by author Wendell Berry, with whom Jackson has shared a longtime friendship and correspondence.
- Man and the Environment (1971)
- New Roots for Agriculture (1980)
- Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth (1987)
- Becoming Native to This Place (1994)
- Nature as Measure: The Selected Essays of Wes Jackson (2011)
- Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2011)
- Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship (1984), Editor
- Soil and Survival: Land Stewardship and the Future of American Agriculture (1986), Introduction by
- From the Land: Articles Compiled from the Land 1941-1954 (1988), Introduction by
- Farming in Nature's Image: An Ecological Approach to Agriculture (1991), Forward by
- Life on the Dry Line: Working the Land, 1902-1944 (1992), Forward by
- From the Good Earth: A Celebration of Growing Food Around the World (1993), Forward by
- The Ecology of Hope: Communities Collaborate for Sustainability (1996), Forward by
- Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle (1999), Forward by
- Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town (1999), Forward by
- Wendell Berry: Life and Work (2007), Essay
- The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge (2008), Editor
- American Georgics: Writings on Farming, Culture and the Land (2011), Forward by
- “If we don’t get sustainability in agriculture first, sustainability will not happen.”
- “By beginning to make agriculture sustainable we will have taken the first step forward for humanity to begin to measure progress by its independence from the extractive economy.”
- “Ecosystem agriculturalists will take advantage of huge chunks of what works. They will be taking advantage of the natural integrities of ecosystems worked out over the millennia.”
- "If your life's work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you're not thinking big enough."
Notes and references
-  Jayne T. MacLean, Jane Potter Gates, Wes Jackson and National Agricultural Library (U.S.) (1990). "Oral history interview by Jane Gates with Wes Jackson". Beltsville, Maryland: National Agricultural Library. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
- Jackson, Wes (1971). “Man and the Environment.” Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Company. Preface, xvii.
-  U.S. Government Accountability Office (1977). "Protect Tomorrow's Food Supply, Soil Conservation Needs Priority Attention". CED-77-30. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
-  Jackson, Wes (2002). "Systems Agriculture: A radical alternative". Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 88: 111-117. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
- Jackson, Wes, Wendell Berry, and Bruce Colman, Eds. (1984). “Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship." San Francisco, CA: North Point Press.
- Jason Peters (ed) Wendell Berry: Life and Work, page 180
- Jackson, Wes (December 8, 2000). "Food in the Coming Century Right Livelihood Awards 2000 (LR69)". The Land Institute. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
- "Acceptance Speech by Wes Jackson December 8th, 2000". The Right Livelihood Awards 2000. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
- Jackson, Wes (1985). New Roots for Agriculture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-8032-7562-1.
- "Quote by Wes Jackson". Goodreads. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
- The Land Institute
- World Future Council
- 35 Who Made a Difference: Wes Jackson
- Wes Jackson
- Robert Jensen: An Interview with Wes Jackson
- Right Livelihood Award recipient Wes Jackson
- Kansas State Historical Society's entry on Land Institute archives, including a history