Growing community

A vacant lot transforms into Urban Roots’ educational farm

Photo By kat kerlin

Urban Roots Garden Classrooms wants to teach kids and teachers—and the entire community—how to grow their own food. They want every school to have a garden where they can plant vegetables, learn about worms and healthy soil, and prepare fresh food. To show schools, families and the community how to make this possible, they are building a demonstration farm.

The Urban Roots Farm is on a half-acre parcel of land on West Fourth Street near 4th St. Bistro. The land was donated to URGC by Kelly Rae and Pam Haberman of Haberae Homes, who specialize in urban infill projects in Reno. It was formerly vacant and served as a parking lot for much of the last 15 years.

“The vision for this space is to be a learning area and model for people to take ideas for their own gardens,” says Josie Luciano, executive director of URGC. “ It’s hard to imagine the end in the beginning, but if you can come to a place where things are thriving and flourishing, it’s easier to envision and make it happen.”

Luciano started Urban Roots in November 2009. Before that, she was an Americorps volunteer with Sierra Nevada Journeys and worked on gardening projects. Those two years with Americorps inspired her to start her own project.

Looking at the Urban Roots Farm space now, it is hard to envision the lush, productive garden they have in mind. However, plans for the garden are impressive. The farm site plan was designed by Jana Vanderhaar according to permaculture, a sustainable land-use design using models that occur in nature. The plans include a food forest, an outdoor classroom, a pond, a composting area, a chicken coop, a keyhole kitchen garden, a human sundial and an outdoor kitchen.

“This is our building phase right now. One thing we’re working on this year is growing good soil—before we can grow good food,” Luciano says as she points to a large area of the site covered in sheet mulch. Currently, irrigation is being installed, and a temporary hoop house is being built.

“It’s going at the pace of community support,” Luciano explains about the progress of the farm. “We’re also relying on community sweat to get it going.”

Different parts of the Urban Roots Farm are being sponsored and donated by community members and businesses. Western Nevada Supply donated the irrigation, the outdoor kitchen area is going to be built with the support of the Obesity Prevention Foundation and Whole Foods, and the shed is being donated and built by local Eagle Scouts. Every Tuesday afternoon, Joe Ferguson’s Field Studies class from Rainshadow Charter High School comes to the farm and works. They are currently putting together the temporary hoop house and working on the pond area.

“When kids are learning and moving, it becomes engrained,” says Luciano. “It’s not a hard sell. They’re outside, having fun, and learning about land management and how to grow food.”

As the farm grows with the help of the community, URGC’s mission and vision of following food from seed-to-table and developing a sense of place is coming to fruition. The Urban Roots Farm will be a place for learning and doing.

This summer, Urban Roots will hold camps for kids at the River School Farm, and they will have regular volunteer days at the new farm site the first Sundays of June, July and August from 9 a.m. to noon, that will include family activities and projects.