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Field Notes

2023 Kernza® Con Recap

Kernza® Con came to the Twin Cities on June 21–23, 2023 for three days of research talks, field trips, and plenty of Kernza food and beverages. The successful event brought together over 120 researchers, growers, students, and other perennial grain enthusiasts from 18 states, two Canadian provinces, Denmark, and Sweden. KernzaCAP, University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative, and Green Lands Blue Waters co-hosted the gathering at the Graduate Minneapolis hotel and other locations in the greater Twin Cities region.

Kernza® Con 2023 kicked off with a lively reception on Wednesday, June 21 at Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis. Tattersall’s Kernza Perennial Grain Whiskey, made with 100% Kernza, was the star of the show and served as the foundation for many tasty cocktails. Attendees also dined on Kernza and other continuous living cover crop snacks provided by Eat Your Heart Out Catering.

The first full day of presentations featured short-form “lightning talks” on Kernza research including breeding and agronomy, dual-use harvests for grain and forage, social sustainability, food science, impacts to ecosystem services, education, policy, commercialization, and more. Take a look at the slide deck from the lightning talks and a recording of the lightning talks.

Longer-form break-out sessions in the afternoon facilitated deeper discussion among attendees on these topics. A poster session in the evening offered attendees additional opportunities to discuss current research projects. The day culminated with a gathering at Bang Brewing Company in St. Paul to celebrate the release of Bang’s Kernza Lager.

On Friday, June 23, attendees participated in field trips to see and experience how Kernza is grown and processed. The first stop was the Kernza research plots at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities on the St. Paul campus. Drs. Jake Jungers and Prabin Bajgain introduced attendees to cutting-edge projects including a plot where buried glass tubes and cameras monitor the development and growth of Kernza’s root system.

Buses then departed the UMN campus for Kimber Contours family farm in Castle Rock, Minnesota. Kurt Kimber and his family welcomed attendees to their beautiful organic farm that produces multiple continuous living cover crops. Kimber Contours’ system incorporates numerous conservation practices like reduced tillage and natural prairie strips featuring native plants ideal for pollinator species. Conference attendees traversed fields of Kernza intercropped with legumes and a former Kernza field currently producing organic soybeans. Kurt also revealed his plans for transitioning his farm to a vertically integrated sustainable food production and processing company committed to increasing BIPOC land ownership and access.

Finally, attendees were delighted to visit Perennial Pantry’s new production facility in Northfield, Minnesota. Perennial Pantry is a pioneer in the commercialization of Kernza and the development of Kernza consumer packaged goods. Founder Christopher Abbott and R&D Director Joe Kaplan led attendees on a tour of the facility and provided samples of their delicious products including their renowned Kernza crackers. Additional product samples and food science demonstrations were provided by UMN’s Dr. George Annor and American Hazelnut Company.

Kernza® Con 2023 provided three days of critical relationship building and research coordination for the Kernza community. Visitors to the Twin Cities got a taste for the vibrant landscape of researchers, growers, and makers forging the future of this exciting perennial grain.

The organizers of Kernza® Con 2023 would like to thank the following organizations:

  • KernzaCAP, UMN Forever Green Initiative, and Green Lands Blue Waters for co-hosting the event
  • UMN College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences for providing funding
  • The Graduate Minneapolis hotel for hosting us
  • Tattersall Distilling for sponsoring, hosting us, and supporting Kernza
  • Bang Brewing Company for hosting us and being an early supporter of Kernza
  • The Kimber Family for hosting field trips and being amazing Kernza growers
  • Perennial Pantry for hosting field trips and being amazing Kernza innovators
  • Eat Your Heart Out Catering for feeding us
  • Sustainable Farming Association for the Kernza Con t-shirts
  • Sift Consulting for patiently and brilliantly organizing the event