University’s Desert Farming Initiative Raising Funds to Upgrade Plant Nursery

Jan 17, 2024

The University of Nevada, Reno’s Desert Farming Initiative has had to take a pause in providing more than a dozen local growers with organic plant starts for their farms and agricultural programs, due to aging equipment and greenhouse facilities. In order to be ready to help producers with organic plant starts for next spring without increasing prices, the Initiative has embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to raise $10,000 by this May.

“We know that local producers value being able to get these organic plant starts locally, and from a trusted source,” said Jill Moe, director of the Initiative, which is part of the Experiment Station unit of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. “Our aging equipment and greenhouse facility are at the point where our ability to produce top-quality plants has been affected. So, we’re asking the community to chip in. Ultimately, the plant starts we provide to producers wind up serving consumers here in northern Nevada who want locally grown organic produce for their tables.”

The plants are grown in a 2,400-square-foot climate-controlled greenhouse at the Experiment Station’s Valley Road Field Lab, a 27-acre property where agricultural research and education is conducted. The greenhouse is the only certified organic wholesale nursery in Nevada. Moe said they usually grow about 100,000 plant starts each year, for the Initiative’s own farm, local producers, educational programs, tribal hoop houses, Master Gardeners and local seedling sales. Originally the program was funded by a grant, and the Initiative was able to provide the plants to producers at a low, subsidized price. But that grant ran out, and now the program is self-funded. At the same time, the facility has become difficult to effectively manage until simple upgrades can be made.

“We have old wood tables that are causing pest and disease issues that need to be replaced with metal tables that are industry standard. And, the gravel floor also needs to be replaced with a concrete floor with drains to efficiently manage moisture,” she said. “We are also working to upgrade propagation equipment to improve plant survival.”

“Our goal is a 95% survival rate for our plants,” she said. “And, due to aging facility and equipment issues, we’re just not quite there and not going to get there until we address them. That’s a disservice to those relying on us, and can ultimately increase the cost of farming. It’s a trickle-down situation that hurts everyone, and we’re asking for community support.”

Moe said the goal is to raise the $10,000 needed by this May, complete the improvements by the end of the year, and be able to reliably supply local producers with fruit and vegetable plant starts by next spring, while keeping the price of the plant starts affordable for farmers. The Initiative also runs a year-round commercial farm, including hoop houses, orchards and open fields; provides training for students as well as aspiring growers in the Nevada Farm Apprenticeship Program; and overall seeks to advance climate-smart farming and build equitable food systems in the region.

“Having a nursery like ours in northern Nevada is cool,” she said, “because it can provide climate-adapted plants for our specific area and reduce the need for imports. That’s really valuable to local growers, and in the end, it’s valuable to all of us who choose locally grown, organic produce for our tables.”

To contribute to the Desert Farming Initiative’s crowdfunding effort, contribute online by May 31.

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