Summer is coming to a close and for many around the globe it is time to start thinking about our fall harvest. While Southern Nevada may seem like an unlikely agricultural region, you may be surprised and hopefully inspired by the urban agricultural community growing up around us. Maybe like me, you’ll be inspired to learn about seeds, soil and alternative ways to grow your own food in your home. Or at the very least, support one of the multiple school and community gardens in your neighborhood.
Every day we sustain our lives by nutritious substances. In order to do that we rely on massive amounts of land, water, energy and transportation to produce and deliver our food.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), food production accounts for 70 percent our total water withdrawal and 30 percent of our total energy consumption. Energy is needed to pump, transport and distribute water. Water is needed to produce energy, particularly fossil fuel and nuclear sources. Both energy and water are precious resources that we in Southern Nevada, as well as around the world, are eager to conserve and use efficiently.
The majority of Southern Nevada’s fruits and vegetables are imported to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. More than 90 percent of food products are flown or trucked in to Las Vegas, adding to food miles and price.
In addition, we are more and more in the dark about how our food is being produced. While 64 countries have passed mandatory GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) labeling, the US House of Representatives recently passed a law to block mandatory labeling. In other words, we have no way of knowing whether the food we buy is genetically altered or not. This bill was created and heavily lobbied by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an organization representing the biggest food and biotechnology companies like Con Agra and Monsanto. Opponents of this bill, organic farmers and consumer, environmental and health groups, were pushing for more transparency in our food products.
These and endless other reasons are why urban agriculture and home gardens will become a bigger part of our lives.
When my husband and I made our recent decision to move back to Las Vegas, we were often asked why? Besides the obvious reason of wanting to be closer to our daughters and family, we often stated that we were looking forward to having a garden, an impossibility in our 300-square foot apartment in Tokyo. This was usually met with tilted heads and questionable glances. Gardening in drought-ridden Las Vegas? In the desert? How?
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how this could happen but was pleased to find an incredible food movement in Southern Nevada upon our return. Several organizations, non-profits and start-ups are working together at various events, such as the Nevada Green School STEM Summit to be held on October 10th. The inspiring Stephen Ritz will be the keynote speaker.
Urban agriculture alternatives
Among these organizations are exciting startups that offer indoor options to grow your own herbs and vegetables. The Garden Tower Project creates patio farming through their unique, self-contained garden and composting system. Other indoor options are Zipgrow, Farm Walls and Spring Systems by Bright Agrotech, or Microfarms by Urbafresh, tailored for classrooms and education.
Or you can be creative and assemble your own indoor garden with LED Grolights, heirloom seeds and a wide variety of soil choices, like water-saving Wonder Soil.
As I did my research for this article, I noticed a variety of cottage industries that have popped up for indoor lighting, soil, and agriculture know-how-an unlikely benefit to the legalization of medical cannibas in Nevada.
A virtual farmers website called Agrilicious can show you where to purchase local, non-GMO seeds from local farmers as well as information on a range of alternative food production.
Taking it to the schools
Garden Farms of Nevada assists in creating urban farms in home backyards, schools or wherever you have space. In a short period of time, with the help from Green Our Planet and other non-profits, over 95 school gardens have been built around Southern Nevada to educate students, teachers and parents about sustainable gardening. These raised garden beds have also doubled as hands-on laboratories for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning, and have been a concrete way for schools to move toward healthier diets-something lost in our school cafeterias and vending machines.
An exciting addition to Las Vegas is a new company called Indoor Farms of America. On a recent tour of their indoor aeroponics farm, co-owner Ron Evans gave me an inside look at the amazing produce that can be grown with air, water and LED lights. Ron was emphatic about the potential for individuals and businesses to take control of their food production. He believes that the ‘hobby mentality’ of urban agriculture can be detrimental to the importance of our food security. He states that aeroponics is the way to, “produce food stocks we can grow ourselves.”
My mouth began to water at the variety of peppers, arugula, cilantro and lemon flavored basil. Check out their Victory Garden specials.
Drought is not the only challenge to food security. Last week in Japan there were unusually heavy rains. My husband’s parents’ extensive garden was suddenly flooded. They and their neighbors depend on that food to exchange with each other and feed themselves.
The challenges we face in food production are numerous but there is much we can do. The Nevada food movement is small yet growing. Individuals and organizations are working together and sharing ideas, not unlike family farms in the past. Just imagine if Southern Nevada became an agricultural hub at a sustainable level. Not only could we be able to support our tourist industry, we could also become our own food producers where individuals can exchange with their neighbors and local markets.
Green Living column for Tuesday, September 22, 2015, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal titled, “Home farming in Southern Nevada a possibility.”