Breaking new ground

Toni Ortega

PHOTO/Brad Bynum

Since the spring of 2012, Toni Ortega and Lyndsey Langsdale have owned and operated Lost City Farm, an urban farm in Reno's midtown. The farmers recently announced that they will be temporarily closing the farm while they move from their current location on the corner of Center and Moran streets.

What’s going on? I saw a Reno Gazette-Journal story with your photo that said “farm closing.”

Yeah. At first it was a little dramatic. The biggest thing is that we’ve been aware for three years that we might have to shut down, because the landowner and us agreed about four years ago that we were only going to sign a three-year lease. That’s what he felt comfortable with. Honestly, that’s what we felt comfortable with. We had never done something like this. It had never been done in Reno. When we signed the three-year lease, we didn’t know how we were going to be received by the community. We didn’t know if that ground would produce anything, if that soil was actually viable. We had an inkling and that was all. Three years, at the time, was plenty—plus, we’ll take what we can get. And we had a really solid agreement. $1 a month was our rent. So the third year happened really quickly—quicker than we thought it would come. And we wanted to renew. We were like, yeah, this awesome. The community is supporting it. The soil is awesome. We’ve been adding to it. And we went up to the landowner and he said, “no dice.”

What’s his name?

I don’t want to tell you. We keep him separate from all media because the biggest thing for us and him is that his family—because it’s not just one man—they can’t be the bad guys in this. And that’s the agreement we made four years ago when we met him. We realized our lease might possibly not be renewed. He said, “I don’t want to come out like I’m the one who destroyed you all.” And I said, “Yeah, you’re not. You’re the only person who’s actually given us land.” He built the fence. He gave us a huge donation for seeds. He was really in love with the project. … And his family owns properties. They’re businesspeople. It’s totally their right to sell. If I had that parcel and the property values skyrocketed—it’s worth, I think, at least a million—I’d probably sell it and go buy five acres with a barn and water rights. So we’ve been keeping him private. … We’re making this public statement so that we can find a new home. We’ve decided that we’d still like to farm, and we’d still like to farm urban. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be shutting our doors. It just means we’re relocating.

Well, your farm doesn’t really have doors.

[Laughs] Right—the gate. We’re not locking the gate permanently.

You hope to be back by spring?

Our hope is to be back by spring, but we feel like realistically if we can find a parcel and set up a long-term lease, this next spring will just be about infrastructure, rebuilding soil, we have to put a fence up, new irrigation—basically starting from scratch, depending on what parcel is offered to us and what we can work with. … We have like 25 parcels offered to us right now. When we put out our first public statement, there was this crazy outpouring, “Oh my gosh! Lost City Farm! No!” And people left and right are offering different size parcels, some very urban, some not so urban, some probably not really viable at the end of the day. … We’ve been narrowing it down, and our list right now is about six real possible, viable parcels. But we have a very big niche, and it’s to stay urban.

You want to stay in the core—midtown, downtown?

That would be ideal. It’s getting more difficult to do that. There’s so much more development now. At lease eight of the parcels that we looked at three years ago now have homes on them. So it’s getting harder to stay in this neighborhood. … Our next choice would be still urban, still neighborhoody. We don’t want to move out to the ’burbs. We don’t want to move to Fallon. Nothing against that. It’s just that this is what we do—we urban farm.