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Department of


OPN Masterclass – 2017

Ogallala Savannah

By Jasmine Au, Bradley Daniel, Amanda Hoefling, Evan Kay, Alicia Pierce

“The Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir that gives life to these fields, is disappearing. In some places, the groundwater is already gone. This is the breadbasket of America – the region that supplies at least one fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. If the aquifer goes dry, more than $20 billion worth of food and fiber will vanish from the world’s markets. And scientists say it will take natural processes 6,000 years to refill the reservoir.”
Credit: Scientific American

The introduction of the plow and the discovery of the Ogallala aquifer forever changed the landscape. The original savanna was uprooted in pursuit of cash crops: mainly corn and soybeans. These thirsty plants in combination with wasteful center pivot irrigation systems demand more water than the aquifer is able to replenish. But a problem this complex does not have a simple solution. It is simply not feasible to cease groundwater consumption in these eight states to preserve this precious resource. It is not about halting consumption.

We intend to bring back the Ogallala savanna. It will be constructed of native plantings that utilize “dead zones,” or areas that cannot be profitably planted. They become a greenbelt, stringing together native prairie. These plants are not only grasses, but many can be harvested for food. They have deep fibrous roots to help keep topsoil in place and provide a natural mulch to keep moisture in the soil, resulting in fewer waterings.

The majority of corn production in this region goes to animal feed, but the cattle are able to graze on the native grasses instead. As a result, feedlots will begin to close and be repurposed. Previous stalls become spaces for open air farmers markets or research farms after recultivation of the land. The native plants grown on these research farms can be utilized in the existing structures that become a farm store and kitchen that teach the public how they can use these plants in their own homes.

This is not intended as the be all and end all. A systematic issue requires a much more complex solution. It is a confident step in the right direction, but the aquifer depends heavily on the local people. Their participation in native plantings, food hubs, and responsible water use is critical. The Ogallala savanna intends to educate and provide livelihood for these people while allowing the aquifer to be used at a sustainable rate.

Ogallala Savannah


With plots of land allocated to planting crops native to the savanna, new and easy recipes can be formulated.
Servings: 2


Several Handfuls of Ramp
Several Handfuls of Yucca
1 Ear of Corn
1 Cup Soy Beans
1 1/2 Tbsp Mint Leaf

Prairie Tea:

Begin by hanging harvested mint to dry. Drying times vary. Once dry, chop mind finely. Add 1 1/2 Tbsp mint leaf to hot water. Let steep for 4-5 minutes.

Savanna Salad:

While tea is steeping, add soy beans to pot with water. Bring to boil. Return to simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for roughly an hour. Drain and rinse. Next, bring another pot to boil. Add ear of corn and bring back to boil. Cover and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove corn from pot. Next, rinse the ramp and yucca. Once thoroughly washed, chop to desired size. Place in serving bowl. Chop the corn, separating it from the cob. Place in serving bowl with greens. Once soy beans are ready, place in bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Toss salad. Add dressings as desired.