Hoop house partnership to provide to low income families

Volunteers helping build hoop houses at UNR’s Main Station Field Lab, located on East McCarran Blvd., Reno, NV

In an effort to increase the quantity of fresh, locally grown produce available to low income families in Northern Nevada, the UNR’s Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) and Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada has broken ground on more than 2,600-square-feet of hoop house space that will produce year-round vegetables for the St. Vincent’s poverty programs and other services offered by Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada.

The new hoop houses are being assembled this month at the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station’s Main Station Field Lab in east Reno on McCarran Boulevard at Mill Street. These will be the first production hoop houses built at that location.

“We are so excited to partner with Catholic Charities to build these hoop houses and increase our opportunities for year-round production of fresh fruits and vegetables to the local community,” says Jennifer Ott, DFI director.

The new partnership follows an already established relationship between the two groups. DFI, a joint program between CABNR, Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station (NAES), University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, and the College of Business, has been donating all of their extra produce to St. Vincent’s Food Pantry and St. Vincent’s Dining Room since their first harvest in 2013. The new hoop houses will allow for increased consistency and a greater volume of fresh produce for low income clients of St. Vincent’s, a population that rarely has access to these types of foods.

“Having every day access to fresh, locally grown food is something we want to be able to provide to all of our clients from young to old. We can use this food in the St. Vincent’s Dining Room, St. Vincent’s Food Pantry, in our early learning facility and in our senior centers. This is another alternative to canned goods. It’s healthier and it’s local. We are thrilled,” says Peter Vogel, CEO of Catholic Charities.

DFI currently grows fresh produce for research, education, and outreach, providing produce to a variety of local organizations, food distributors and UNR's dining facilities. The new hoop houses will allow DFI to expand their infrastructure, creating more opportunities in local agriculture.

“This collaboration truly exemplifies the university’s land-grant mission of teaching, research, and outreach programs benefiting the health and economic vitality of Nevada,” said Dr. Bill Payne, dean of CABNR and director of NAES.  “It illustrates not only our continued commitment to Nevada agriculture, but also our efforts to promote health and nutrition in communities, particularly among disadvantaged populations.”

Increased investment in DFI is part of a larger effort by CABNR, NAES, and Extension, to promote healthy lifestyles that include increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. CABNR recently hired Dr. Felipe Barrios Massias (see profile on opposite page), and NAES is funding more horticulture research projects. Extension already has several horticulture, as well as health and nutrition experts in the state, and sponsors the successful Master Gardener program, as well as the Grow Your Own Nevada, Veggies for Kids, Grow Yourself Healthy, and other programs aimed at increasing production and consumption of fresh produce in the state.

“Expanding this program to the Main Station Field Lab is an important step for the DFI project,” said Payne. “We also intend to gradually expand DFI into other parts of the state.”

DFI works towards three goals:

  • Develop, implement and provide resources for an educational program in sustainable farming systems for high desert climates.
  • Provide opportunities for research and hands-on educational experience to University faculty, students and community.
  • Demonstrate working agricultural systems that address the challenges of both economic and environmental sustainability for the agriculture community.

Construction on the new hoop houses is a joint effort between DFI employees, interns and Catholic Charities volunteers and staff. The first crop is expected to be planted in March 2016.