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William E. Lewis, distinguished lecturer in finance at KU, teaches a personal finance course that addresses fiscal topics traditionally tied to college life — budgeting, paying bills, renting an apartment — but also helps students prepare for tasks that lie ahead — saving for retirement, investing, buying a home. Watch video »

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Participants in Unclassified Senate's mini Wheat State Whirlwind Tour got up-close looks like this at wind turbines at a wind farm near Salina.

Mini Wheat State tour focuses on sustainability

More than 40 KU unclassified staff members took part in a Wheat State mini-tour, April 13 that focused on environmental sustainability efforts in the area surrounding Salina. The first stop of the cold, blustery day took the staffers to the world-famous Land Institute, a nonprofit organization that for 33 years has promoted a radical approach to “natural-systems agriculture.”

Ken Warren, managing director of the land institute, spoke to the KU entourage about humanity’s poor stewardship of the Earth and stressed the need for more stable approaches to agriculture. He promoted “polyculture,” or the raising of multiple sustainable crops within one field, and decried “monoculture,” the prevalent form of farming where one crop is planted annually over a widespread area. According to Warren, 11 of the 13 major annual crops have perennial relatives that could provide the world with ample food while conserving soil and water.

“We’re biting the land that feeds us,” Warren said. “In the process, we’re running out of oil, water and soil.”

Because of rains the day before, the KU tour bus had became mired in mud close to the Land Institute’s entrance, but a tractor from the nonprofit towed out the bus with no delay to the group.

Next, the Wheat State Mini-tour landed at the 86-year-old Cozy Inn luncheonette in Salina, where staffers enjoyed miniature hamburgers by the sack.

“These burgers actually are great,” said tour participant Jeremy Viscomi, project coordinator with the KU Energy Council. “They’re onion-y.”

After lunch, the bus headed 20 miles to the west, arriving at the Smoky Hills Wind Farm. It’s the largest single wind project in the state, encompassing wind turbines capable of producing 250 megawatts, or enough electricity to power about 85,000 Kansas homes for a year.

Landowner Gordon Homeier talked to the KU group in the shadow of one of the 262-foot wind turbines, which had been shut down to allow for a close-up inspection. Homier, who leases part of his farm to Lenexa-based developers TradeWind Energy, said there were distinct economic and ecological advantages to wind energy, but lamented the lack of adequate power lines to transfer the turbine-produced energy.

After a time scraping mud from their boots and shoes, the KU group boarded the tour bus for the 155-mile trek back to Lawrence. Along the way, it was decided unanimously to make a pit stop at the Russell Stover Candies Factory and Outlet Store in Abilene.

“I considered the trip an example of Kansas heartiness,” said mini-tour planner Sarah Kirk, director of the KU Psychological Clinic. “Everyone on the trip was a good sport getting through the weather and the mud and I think we all considered it a learning experience worth the effort.”

The professional development committee of the Unclassified Senate organized the Wheat State mini-tour.


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