Until recently, Boise was often described as the Northwest’s “best kept secret”—a little-known but surprisingly hip town with beautiful natural features, a strong university, robust businesses and a thriving music and art scene. “A miniature Portland, but with better weather,” is a description sometimes heard.
Now, Boise has been discovered. In 2015, Forbes Magazine investigated the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and ranked Boise number 15, citing a population of more than 600,000 for the surrounding metropolitan area.
A city, which for 150 years had been a model of traditional conservative American life, is evolving into a freshman exhibit of new ways to house people, run businesses, grow food, gather people together, and educate kids. Several early-stage projects are “intentional communities,” a global concept in which people form a group around an idea, which could be spiritual, ecological, or intellectual.
Sunny Genz, a transplant from Colorado who moved to Boise for its lower cost of living, wanted to build an intentional community that would change the way people think about growing food, land and energy use, ecology and human relationships. In 2014, after an early cancer was treated successfully, she had a “what am I waiting for” feeling and publicized an open meeting. Twenty-five people who seemed passionate showed up, and there was an exciting and hopeful feeling that spurred Sunny to pursue her dream.
But the second meeting had fewer—and different—people, and she didn’t think it was the group that would move the project forward. She put together a smaller group of more focused people and called it the Core Council. But even some of them fell away from the project.
Today, there are four people who work on the project, but most of the burden clearly falls on Genz. Her optimistic nature, combined with a keen intellect and broad knowledge of the intentional community idea, points to future success.
Boise EcoVillage is a small roadside plot on Chinden Boulevard, a main east-west thoroughfare, and the property would have a rural feeling if not for the traffic noise. A raised yurt, used as a central gathering place, is the visual landmark, and next to it, pumpkins, squash and other vegetables grow, including an assembly of a dozen tomato varieties. Urban farmer Matt Denning works the land and makes sure it produces organic, healthy produce.
“When we leased the property the soil was contaminated with atrozine,” said Genz. Atrozine is an artificial herbicide that can take several years to break down, but by working and amending the soil, the EcoVillage property was relatively free of it after just one year. They planted pumpkins and had a bounty that attracted customers and bulk buyers, bringing in some badly needed money. And the village had its first public event with a pumpkin-picking open house that attracted families with kids. It was just the sort of thing Genz aimed for.
Now, Genz, Denning and another Core Council member are searching for permanent land in or around Boise, and their dream is to find a place with a stream, fertile soil, room for an orchard and small buildings, wildlife and big trees. “We also need to find multiple ways of generating income, other than growing food,” said Genz. Other eco-villages house artists, woodworkers, small mail-order businesses and teachers who live in the village and bring in shared money.
“An event center, wellness center, and classes in farming, cooking, and crafts would bring in more people who may want to learn about intentional living,” she said. She added that in 10 years she’d love to see a network of ecovillages throughout the Treasure Valley that could cooperate, exchange goods, share events and classes, and inspire people toward a simpler life.
Genz is driven to teach people to do something real and tangible and to live among like-minded citizens in harmony and peace. Her contribution to the development of the small capital of Idaho into a hub for new ideas could just get her—and Boise—to just that kind of place.