Bouncing up a one-lane dirt track in the mountains of China’s remote Yunnan province for nearly 14 hours in a government vehicle, Orlin Reinbold was a long way from home.
For three generations, his family’s business, Landmark Turf & Native Seed, has helped farmers save their land from erosion and protect the environment.
Orlin’s grass seed adorns the Mile High Stadium, where the Denver Broncos play. It covers major league ballfields, and the fairways and greens of the U.S. Open and the LPGA.
Success, though, “that doesn’t make me who I am,” says Orlin. “Most of life is about associations, meeting people, understanding a culture—those are the real experiences.”
So when he was directed to inspect grass seed farms in far-flung corners of China, the Spokane resident jumped at the chance. That meant long rides, late flights, and encounters with strangers, few of whom spoke English.
Taking stock at the end of a particularly exhausting drive, he paused for reflection. “What am I really doing here?” Orlin thought. Adventures like these, he decided, lead to deeper understanding.
“If you’re not learning, it’s no fun.”
And Orlin believes that deeper understanding leads to world-changing advances. For his global pursuit of knowledge, commitment to continuing his family legacy, and desire to help young people expand their horizons, Orlin embodies the heart of a Coug.
Legacy of learning, leading
Family traditions at WSU run deep. From his grandparents straight on down to his daughter, Orlin’s family is full of Cougs. There’s every chance that a fifth generation, Orlin’s grandchildren, will also be Cougars.
But the WSU legacy isn’t the only one this family keeps—they’re also innovators.
It was Orlin’s paternal grandfather, August, who was one of the first to plant winter wheat near Davenport. And it was August’s ideas about conservation that spurred a visit to the family cemetery—one of the few places where native grass still grew—to compare the topsoil there to the topsoil in his own fields.
“He surmised that the fourth generation would never farm his fields because there wouldn’t be any topsoil left,” Orlin said.
That discovery fueled August to help set up regional conservation districts, which led directly to the family’s grass seed business. August’s seeds let farmers plant native grasses that stabilized stream banks and slowed erosion, still a major concern for Washington farmers.
Today, Orlin continues his grandfather’s legacy by supporting efforts to breed new landscaping grasses and explore resources in the 80-year-old seed vaults on campus.
At the new WSU Plant Growth Facility, Orlin got a hands-on look at experiments run by students of Michael Neff, head of WSU turfgrass research.
“I wouldn’t be doing any of this without Orlin,” says Neff. “Thanks to him, my students are getting real work experience. Along with financial support, Orlin gives me a lot of intellectual support and insight. He’s shown me the challenges that his industry faces. It’s a total collaboration.”
With Orlin’s help, WSU could become the leading center for drought-tolerant grasses that need little fertilizer or chemicals. Living lawns could protect our water resources.
“Let’s be the university that does that!” he said. ♥