Guest Opinions

Boise can grow new products, ideas and ag-tech leaders by cultivating our front lawns

May and June were the driest ever measured in SeaTac, according to a Twitter post made by the National Weather Service.
May and June were the driest ever measured in SeaTac, according to a Twitter post made by the National Weather Service. NYT

Last fall, I decided to till the front lawn of my East Foothills home in Boise. Replacing the sun-haggard grass, our kids and I replanted winter wheat and rye. We’re excited for the prospect of 110 loaves of bread that may ultimately precipitate, but the bread is only a fraction of what I desire. I see benefits in resource efficiency, education and community.

Winter wheat is a dry land crop in Southern Idaho. It is well suited to our environment and can be grown without supplemental watering. It has never made sense to me to dump hundreds of gallons of treated drinking water, fertilizers and pesticides on a traditional lawn and spend time mowing, only to have something to look at. How much recreating do you truly do on your front lawn? Real estate agents talk about the property value of putting in a green lawn, but I would ask what the tangible underpinning is for this “value”?

I’m excited for my children to see the full process of planting, harvesting, milling, and processing our wheat into a finished product. Wheat is a ubiquitous ingredient, yet my home has seen an endless stream of neighbors and passersby asking, “What’s this?” One city enforcement officer threatened to have the city mow my lawn for me — he, too, lacked the knowledge to recognize a cereal grain — assuming we had oddly decided to plant our lawn in broad rows and grow it as high as possible. It’s wheat. (And it happens to be our garden in a zone that also allows for an urban farm.)

The majority of us lack the firsthand knowledge to assess food options we see in the marketplace. Should we buy non-GMO, organic, all-natural … ? Without a closer connection to the food supply chain, we stand little chance of discerning marketing from truth, of weighing trade-offs that affect our health and society at large.

The stakes for understanding our food supply will be greater for our children. When mine reach their mid-30s, the world will be home to almost 10 billion people. Scientists worry that our current system will not feed this population, and trying to do so presently would mean using every yield boosting measure: GMO, heavy chemical fertilizers and pesticides — and everyone is eating white bread. Our children will be the decision-makers in this future. Will they have the necessary knowledge?

Boise is well placed to grow a community of ag-tech leaders and do so by cultivating our front lawns. We might save some resources and be better people for it, too. We have friendly city zoning codes. We have world-class agriculture companies at our doorstep. Neighbors should plant GMO and non-GMO seeds, use different rotation crops, and apply all manner of growing techniques, as we will learn the most as a community from seeing the varied results. And I emphasize community. I actually spend time in my front lawn now, and I’ve met many neighbors who I otherwise would not have met — let alone forged relationships with — over wheat.

Matt Bishop is the owner of a coffee business in Boise. He’s a father of three, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Georgetown and a Marine Corps and Army Special Forces (Green Beret) veteran.