University unveils High Desert Farming Initiative

HUD provides funds for collaborative project to include hoop houses and more at Valley Road Field Lab

3/6/2012 - By: Claudene Wharton
Mosier, Males, O’Farrell, Att, Johnson, Pardini Left to right: College of Business Dean Greg Mosier, NSBDC Director Sam Males, Hungry Mother Organics Owner Mark O’Farrell, MBA student Jennifer Ott, President Marc Johnson, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources Dean Ron Pardini.

The University of Nevada, Reno and community partners will transform open land at the University's Valley Road Field Lab property into a collaborative agribusiness demonstration project and farm. The new initiative, announced today, will provide:

  • Learning and employment opportunities for students and community members interested in agriculture and agribusiness,
  • Applied research and demonstration in hoop-house, greenhouse and organic farming in high desert climates for local growers and the agriculture industry, and
  • Assessment of various options to support economic development, primarily to help support agribusiness.

The University's Nevada Small Business Development Center has been developing the effort for several years, collaborating with Sen. Harry Reid and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to secure $500,000 from HUD to fund the project.

"We are very grateful for the support of Senator Reid and HUD," said Sam Males, director of the NSBDC. "It took a while to develop the right plan, form the partnerships and iron out all the details, but we were able to sign the final paperwork to get this moving a couple of weeks ago."

The project will include six new hoop houses, one new greenhouse, a new produce packing facility and an area for soil-mixing and composting. Construction will begin within the next two months and should be complete and ready for planting in early fall, just in time to set seeds to provide some local produce that is usually scarce and in high demand during the winter months.

The project will be guided by a committee of University and community representatives, including Rick Lattin of Lattin Farms and Mark O'Farrell of Hungry Mother Organics.

"Hoop houses create their own ecosystems," O'Farrell said. "That will allow us to manipulate the environment to protect plants from our harsh winters, as well as exercise more control over the crops' quality. And, hoop houses are a lot less expensive to build and operate than full-blown greenhouses."

O'Farrell said the emphasis on use of hoop-house technology will make good use of the seed money from HUD to get the project off the ground. Then, the project is designed to be self-sustaining, with proceeds from produce sold going back into the nonprofit project to fund its ongoing operation. The hoop houses will also be used for applied research and demonstration.

"We will seek to find ways for Nevada farmers and businesses to increase their production, profitability and sustainability, both environmentally and financially," President Johnson said. "Our NSBDC and College of Business; College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; and Cooperative Extension have worked together with these local growers to create an interdisciplinary project that will benefit students, as well as local farmers, businesses and consumers."

Johnson said that students will be involved in every step of the process. In fact, Jennifer Ott, an MBA student at the University, helped write the business plan for the project, created a website for it and will continue to keep the project moving forward, assisting with coordination of construction and doing accounting and other tasks for the project.

Eventually, the University plans to recycle some of the waste produced on campus at the project site, turning it into compost. And, the University Food Service is interested in incorporating some of the food grown by the initiative to contribute to healthy meals for students on campus.


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