Highways are loved in America due to their ability to allow single occupant vehicles to move uninterrupted, thus they crisscross the entirety of the United States. This makes for a lot of land covered by asphalt, cars spattering litter, brake dust, exhaust onto the roadside, and large swaths of manicured grass. The highway side grass is expensive to maintain (people need to be paid to cut the grass) and does little to deal with the exhaust blasting out of automobiles. Kansas as a solution to this grassy knoll – better grass. Kernza is being tested on a Kansas highway because it requires barely any landscaping and captures more carbon than regular grass.
The plant was bred at the Kansas-based Land Institute from a type of wheatgrass related to wheat, but unlike more common grains, like corn, wheat, and barley, it grows perennially, rather than having to be plowed and replanted every year. As it grows, its roots stretch as far as 10 feet underground, helping make the plant more resilient, preventing erosion, and capturing more carbon in the soil.
The plant was highlighted in Paul Hawken’s book Project Drawdown as an effective tool for fighting climate change. Hawken, who has connections to The Ray, helped introduce the organization to the plant. They’d previously considered growing other plants, such as bamboo, but realized that the roots of fast-growing bamboo could be destructive to pavement.