Corn-o-to-pia   (Kor-na-to-pe-a)  ......a small Crop Circle in San Luis Obispo what my daughter named our little experiment in our back yard this summer.
If you are what you eat, and especially if you eat industrial food, as 99 percent of Americans do, what you are is "corn."   Michael Pollan


The original plan was to develop a simple little 12 ft. diameter lawn next to our tiled patio.... A place to relax with a blanket or to read a book in the sun. With a new irrigation system in place and ready for planting, I got distracted with building a chicken coop. When the chicken coop was complete with baby chicks taking residency, I reconsidered the value of a lawn for our back yard, especially when just a few feet beyond our backyard gate sits acres of beautifully mowed turf in our City’s “Meadow Park”. So my thought process lead me down the path….maybe committing to maintaining a lawn, as small as it may be, is foolish when just beyond our gate are dozens of acres of quiet, mowed turf that I do not have to care for. So perhaps I should be considering a lawn substitute such as the now popular Sedges (Carex spp). Having already successfully established Carex pragracilis in the front yard, I was looking for something diferent.   How about experimenting with something that is productive, sustainable and maybe temporary.  Maybe an unusual form of grass…..hum, maybe corn?  I planned to involve my young daughters as it would help expand their knowledge of vegetable gardening and give them valuable learning opportunities towards ecoliteracy.  The plan included sowing last years String Bean seeds, thereby providing a simple structure for the fledgling beans as the corn cobs reach maturity, and fixing nitrogen for the benefit of the soil.

Corn is the keystone species of today’s modern industrial food system. Millions of acres of our agricultural lands are blanketed by a vast monoculture of corn, like a second great American lawn. So when considering lawn substitutes for the home, why is it that nobody thinks of replacing their lawn with a unique, productive form of a grass…..yes, corn?

After reading Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivores Dilemma” you can’t avoid the consistent reminders of corn’s role in the modern American diet.

“During the last year I've been following a bushel of corn through the industrial food system. What I keep finding in case after case, if you follow the food back to the farm — if you follow the nutrients, if you follow the carbon — you end up in a corn field in Iowa, over and over and over again.”

“Take a typical fast food meal. Corn is the sweetener in the soda. It's in the corn-fed beef Big Mac patty, and in the high-fructose syrup in the bun, and in the secret sauce. Slim Jims are full of corn syrup, dextrose, cornstarch, and a great many additives. The “four different fuels” in a Lunchables meal, are all essentially corn-based. The chicken nugget—including feed for the chicken, fillers, binders, coating, and dipping sauce—is all corn. The french fries are made from potatoes, but odds are they're fried in corn oil, the source of 50 percent of their calories. Even the salads at McDonald's are full of high-fructose corn syrup and thickeners made from corn.”

ABOVE - Beans getting there start up the corn stalks

So armed with the seeds and the intent to bring Iowa to our town, my daughters and I got to work sowing corn seeds.


Planter Area: 113 SF (Mini Crop Circle)
Corn Seeds Sown: 115 (Successive plantings May 24 – June 3)
Bean Seeds Sown: 50 (June 8)
Gallons of water applied: 80 gal. per week on average.
Ears of corn harvested:   about 100


Corn as we know it today would not exist if it weren't for the humans that cultivated and developed it. It is a human invention, a plant that does not exist naturally in the wild. It can only survive if planted and protected by humans.

Scientists believe people living in central Mexico developed corn at least 7000 years ago. It was started from a wild grass called teosinte. Teosinte looked very different from our corn today. The kernels were small and were not placed close together like kernels on the husked ear of modern corn. Also known as maize Indians throughout North and South America, eventually depended upon this crop for much of their food.

From Mexico maize spread north into the Southwestern United States and south down the coast to Peru. About 1000 years ago, as Indian people migrated north to the eastern woodlands of present day North America, they brought corn with them.

When Europeans like Columbus made contact with people living in North and South America, corn was a major part of the diet of most native people. When Columbus "discovered" America, he also discovered corn. But up to this time, people living in Europe did not know about corn.

The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621. While sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were not on the menu, Indian corn certainly would have been.