On The Ray’s 18-mile stretch of roadway, maximizing all assets is a key strategy for creating a cleaner, safer highway. One of our largest assets is the land around the interstate, called the right-of-way. This space, designed to be a refuge of safe harbor for drivers in distress, can multi-task and fully utilize the land without threatening its primary purpose to drivers. One use is farming. Kernza® plants are a breakthrough from traditional annual wheat grasses and have deep 10-foot roots that helps to enrich the soil, retain clean water, and sequester carbon. Wheat straw is increasingly used as an alternative to trees and a more sustainable fiber source for making many of the highly disposable products we use every day–diapers, paper towels, toilet paper. By growing and harvesting wheat in the right-of-way, we’re creating a new economic opportunity, all while drawing down carbon.
In October of 2017, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Kansas-based Land Institute, and The Ray implemented a 1,000 square foot pilot demonstration of perennial wheat farming. For the next three years, the pilot project, which uses Kernza® perennial grain, will be monitored by UGA’s Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Program Director and Associate Professor, Brad Davis, as well as a Master of Landscape Architecture student Matthew Quirey. The Kernza® pilot on The Ray is the first in the southeast and the first to be located in a highway roadside.
The Kernza® perennial grain pilot is only the starting point for The Ray. The Ray hopes to expand this project into a vegetative laboratory that would support a variety of pilots over the next several years. These pilots would test different seed mixes for pollinators, weed control strategies, and other innovative agricultural solutions.