Nevada Dining accepts first produce from High Desert Farming Initiative

University of Nevada, Reno residence hall students dine on locally-grown organic produce thanks to local, sustainable farming initiative.

1/30/2014 | By: Dennis Saxon and Nicole Shearer  |

In mid-December, the Downunder Café, the University of Nevada, Reno's resident dining facility, accepted delivery of the first certified crops from the University's High Desert Farming Initiative. This included eight varieties of organic lettuce grown in their 9,600-square-foot facility located on the eastern edge of the campus. The products are being offered to Downunder Café customers as a permanent addition on the regular dining menu.

The partnership between Nevada Dining and High Desert Farming Initiative began in 2011. High Desert's objective was to develop and implement an educational program in sustainable farming systems specific to high desert climates. Located at the University's Valley Road Field Labs and Greenhouse Complex, the operation provides research and hands-on educational experience to the University's students and faculty. Nevada Dining's objective is to enhance the dining hall's sustainability profile by becoming a guaranteed outlet for the farm's products. This allows the Downunder Cafe to offer guests the freshest table greens in Reno.

"We've been anticipating this for a couple of years," Russ Meyer, associate director for housing operations and dining services, said. "We have always been in favor of using locally grown produce. For the first time, we have a large enough source that can keep up with our needs on a weekly basis, year-round."

While the first crops will be limited to varieties of lettuce, future crops will expand to potentially include squashes, carrots, heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs.    "It's wonderful to see the produce coming out of the hoop houses and onto the tables of the Downunder," Sam Males, NSBDC director, who designed and organized the funding for the initiative, said. "We're looking forward to providing a full salad bar to the campus food service outlets. It's a fantastic cross-campus partnership"

"Our goal is to be able to take 60 percent, 80 percent, even 100 percent of what the farm produces every day while school is in session," Meyer said. "This will include seasonal items and smaller batches of vegetables that can be worked into our menus on the fly."

"We have been getting some real positive comments and some interesting looks from students when we tell them the greens they're eating were literally grown right down the street and picked in the last day or two," Barbara Hanke, resident dining director, said. "They really like the taste too."

The High Desert Farming Initiative was made possible by the University's Nevada Small Business Development Center in collaboration with Sen. Harry Reid and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD provided $500,000 to help fund the project. The initiative includes eight hoop houses, two greenhouses and a washing/storage facility.

The community outreach initiative is guided by a committee of University and community representatives, including Rick Lattin of Lattin Farms and faculty from the Nevada Small Business Development Center; College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; College of Business and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

For more information about residence life dining, contact Dennis Saxon, marketing director, Nevada Dining, 775-682-8956 or For more information about the High Desert Farming Initiative contact Jennifer Ott, 707-280-9479 or


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