Lawns to Lettuce at The Open Gate Farm

 Picture of Jon turning his yard to lawns to lettuce

The Snohomish Conservation District recently launched their new ‘Lawns to Lettuce’ program and will be kicking it off with a workshop at The Open Gate Farm on Camano Island on July 18. The workshop will help teach people how to replace a portion of their lawn and grow food in its place. Participants will learn easy techniques for creating a garden bed without having to dig up sod and find out how to build healthy soil, conserve water and reduce the need for pesticides.

The Open Gate Farm is a real life example of these practices. The farm owners, Jon and Elaine Stevens, do not use herbicides or pesticides, choosing instead to use more natural approaches to disease and insect problems. According to Jon, “The frogs and fish are smiling.” They also practice no-till farming, which helps keep topsoil in place, limiting the amount of ‘human-work’ needed to till the soil. 

 Picture of Jon showing off his garden

Jon also works with his site. He plants black currants, which have shallow root systems that are close to the surface. They are great for dry slopes to help retain soil. Plum trees along the road provide a windbreak and manure from the chickens is contained and later used as a soil amendment. Drainage issues on the back of the property were resolved with the help of an engineering design and assistance from Snohomish Conservation District. 

About five years ago, the Stevens decided to share their farming knowledge and began a non-profit called Growing Gardens for Life. A lot of their time is now spent off the farm, helping youth in several Mexican orphanages learn to grow food using permaculture methods. When the Stevens are home, they’re still actively involved at The Open Gate Farm. Their latest project involves replacing a section of their lawn to grow basil, squash and lettuce—which is just one of the reasons they’re a perfect match for the Snohomish Conservation District’s new Lawns to Lettuce program.

Why does the Conservation District want to encourage people to grow food in place of lawns? “Most of us like having some lawn,” says Jessica Paige, Community Outreach Specialist at Snohomish Conservation District, “but if you’re going to put time and energy growing something, why not grow something delicious and nutritious to eat?” Research shows that the fresher the produce, the more nutrients and vitamins it contains. Growing your own food is also a great learning opportunity for children. While most of us are able to grow just a portion of the food we eat, having a garden gives you an appreciation for how hard our farmers work to grow the crops that feed us all. 

 Picture of an artichoke growing in Jon's yard

Typical lawn care practices require a lot of time and resources. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, lawn irrigation accounts for almost half of homeowner water usage in the United States. Lawns can also contribute a significant amount of pollution as a result of the runoff of nutrients and pesticides. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.

If you’d like to learn how to replace a portion of your lawn and grow some food instead, you can attend the Lawns to Lettuce Workshop and Farm Tour on July 18 from 10 am to noon at The Open Gate Farm on Camano Island (address will be sent upon registration). The workshop is free and attendees will get to snack on fresh cinnamon rolls made on the farm. There will also be prize giveaways like compost and other items to help you get your garden growing! To register, visit the event page or call contact Jessica Paige at jessica(at)snohomishcd.org or 425-377-7015.

This event is sponsored by the Snohomish Conservation District and Island County Public Health with funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.