University celebrates sharing of bountiful harvests this Thanksgiving

Desert Farming Initiative and Demonstration Orchard help provide for food-insecure in northern and southern Nevada

Tanner Petrilla harvesting in a hoop house.

Tanner Petrilla, Desert Farming Initiative farm production manager, does some harvesting in a hoop house this month. Photo by Claire Holden.

University celebrates sharing of bountiful harvests this Thanksgiving

Desert Farming Initiative and Demonstration Orchard help provide for food-insecure in northern and southern Nevada

Tanner Petrilla, Desert Farming Initiative farm production manager, does some harvesting in a hoop house this month. Photo by Claire Holden.

Tanner Petrilla harvesting in a hoop house.

Tanner Petrilla, Desert Farming Initiative farm production manager, does some harvesting in a hoop house this month. Photo by Claire Holden.

It’s the season of harvest and giving, and there has been no lack of generosity from the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources this year, which has shared its bounty in both northern and southern Nevada. Through the College’s efforts, and the efforts of its Extension and Experiment Station, the College has grown over 25,780 pounds of food this year, with more than $13,500 worth going to food pantries and those in need. The produce is grown as part of the research and education programs at the Desert Farming Initiative in Reno and the Research Center & Demonstration Orchard in North Las Vegas.

Desert Farming Initiative, Reno

The Desert Farming Initiative harvested over 13,000 pounds of produce this year, with over 3,000 pounds valued at about $5,000 going to food pantries that partner with the Initiative.

The Initiative is a demonstration and research farm on the eastern edge of the University of Nevada, Reno’s main campus, at the Valley Road Field Lab, part of the University’s Experiment Station research unit. The Initiative's mission is to advance and strengthen sustainable agriculture and food systems in Nevada while researching and demonstrating best practices that can be replicated in other high-desert climates. The Initiative educates the region’s next generation of growers and provides support to farms across the region.

 

Through the Farm-to-Food Pantry partnership with the University’s Pack Provisions that provides free food for students in need, and the Community Health Alliance that administers the WIC nutrition assistance program, the Initiative delivers produce to food-insecure students and the community. The farm relies on proceeds from fruit and vegetable sales, donations and grant funding to run the program. 

The Initiative sells produce wholesale to local restaurants, the Great Basin Community Food Coop and the Fallon Food Hub. During the summer, it sells produce at the Sparks United Methodist Church Farmers Market, and in the spring and fall the Initiative offers a farm stand on campus on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The Initiative also participates in the Riverside Farmers Market in Reno periodically, selling produce and providing educational materials. The Initiative, as well as Extension teams in southern Nevada, have helped local farmers markets to serve lower-income populations by accepting and promoting SNAP Food Benefits (formerly known as food stamps) at farmers markets.  

“We grow over 90 varieties of fruits and vegetables on the farm,” said Jill Moe, who is now director of the Initiative and began volunteering for it in 2018. “We had a lot of challenges this year – smoke and air quality so bad some days that we had to shut down the farm, equipment challenges, and heat waves. I’m really proud of what our staff and volunteers were able to accomplish.”

Moe says that while the selection of produce is good spring through fall, it is pretty limited during the winter. She wants to winterize some of the farm’s hoop houses (greenhouse-like structures) to boost winter production and expand the selection of produce available to students and others during colder months.

“By retrofitting our hoop houses to better control the climate around our crops, we can increase yields, improve quality, and extend the production season. The retrofitting could increase food production by 100% for winter food pantry deliveries.”

The Initiative has started a crowdfunding campaign that will run through the end of the year, and has raised about $3,500 so far. For more information on the Desert Farming Initiative, contact Moe at 755-682-9783 or email her.

Research Center & Demonstration Orchard, North Las Vegas

This year, the Research Center & Demonstration Orchard in North Las Vegas harvested 10,425 pounds of produce. During the July through September harvest time alone, 957 people visited the Orchard, and volunteers, including Master Gardeners from University of Nevada, Reno Extension, donated more than 1,500 hours of their time at the Orchard.

This year, the Orchard has given 5,135 pounds of free produce valued at $8,500 to senior citizens who are homebound; food banks, including UNLV Nutrition Center’s Food Bank; veterans; master gardeners and community volunteers; University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV staff members; and staff at various businesses who support the Orchard. The Orchard is part of the Center for Urban Water Conservation, and has been a cooperative effort among University of Nevada, Reno Extension; UNLV and the City of North Las Vegas for over 25 years. 

“This is a great example of our state’s two universities working together to conduct research and serve our communities,” said Eric Killian, Extension southern area director. “For those who have not yet visited the Orchard, we encourage them to do so. It’s really quite impressive.”

 Peaches growing on a tree.
Peaches grow at the Research Center & Demonstration Orchard in North Las Vegas. Photo by Lori Leas.

The main emphasis at the Orchard is on water conservation and growing produce in sustainable ways. Deciduous fruit trees, wine and table grapes, hops, and various kinds of vegetables and nuts have been grown and tested for their ability to survive and produce under desert conditions. The Orchard is also a place where hands-on trainings and workshops are held for homeowners, orchardists and viticulturists.

The Orchard is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, except major holidays. Farm stand produce is available for purchase to the community, chefs and bakers any day the Orchard is open. In November, available produce includes pomegranates, European pears, persimmons and apples. The Orchard is located at 4600 Horse Drive, North Las Vegas. For more information on the Orchard, contact the Research Center & Demonstration Orchard at 702-786-4361.

For more information on supporting the Desert Farming Initiative or the Research Center & Demonstration Orchard, contact Christina Sarman at 775-684-6009 or through email.

 

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