Nevada-Reno Goes Into Farm Business

Dining Services set to be among the beneficiaries of campus’s organic farming initiative.

By 
Paul King, Editor

RENO, Nev.—This fall, the University of Nevada at Reno will join the ranks of those institutions of higher education that grow some of their own produce. A demonstration farm is planned on land located at UNR’s Valley Road lab, with the first crops to be planted in August.

The project is being called the High Desert Farming Initiative. According to a university news release, a $500,000 Small Business Development grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has made the farm possible. The land will hold a full greenhouse and six hoop houses.

In addition to the farm, the Valley Road location will also feature a small processing plant, in which the produce will be trimmed, washed and packed for delivery to the university’s Dining Services department, as well as to local restaurants.

The main focus of the program will be applied research into, and the demonstration of, hoop house, greenhouse and organic farming in high desert climates for local growers and the agriculture industry. The program also will educate students in growing crops and taking them to market and will assist small local organic farmers with their needs.

The program will be managed by a committee made up of university representatives and some local organic farmers.

“Hoop houses create their own ecosystems,” says Mark O’Farrell of Mother Hungry Organics, one of the community representatives on the committee. “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.”

One of the primary beneficiaries of the farm’s produce will be the Dining Services department at UNR. Director of Dining Services Russ Meyer says his department has been pushing for such a program for several years.

“It’s going to be kind of cool,” Meyer says. “The university is going to incorporate academics into it, and we will finally be able to get organic produce in our facilities over the long term.”

Meyer adds that a number of vegetables will be grown on the acreage, primarily lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. He also notes that, even though the land will have its own processing plant, his department is constructing a produce washing station to handle the incoming vegetables.

Eventually, the university plans to recycle some of the waste produced on campus at the project site by turning it into compost.