High hopes

University farm to conduct research on seeds and soil

Jen Friedlander, Ian Olsen and Cole Mellino pull weeds in one of HDFI’s hoophouses.

Jen Friedlander, Ian Olsen and Cole Mellino pull weeds in one of HDFI’s hoophouses.


For more information about the High Desert Farming Initiative, visit highdesertfarming.org.

The High Desert Farming Initiative is up and running, and now that they’ve been Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they will soon begin selling their crops to dining facilities on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

“We don’t have the actual certificate yet, but we’ve gotten word that we passed our USDA GAP audit,” said HDFI project manager Jennifer Ott. “As soon as we actually get the paperwork from the USDA in Sacramento, then we’re going to be able to immediately start harvesting our greens and selling them to university dining facilities.”

HDFI’s first planting was this fall was all greens, like mizuna, tatsoi, spinach and varieties of lettuce, and it went much better than expected, according to Ott. It has eight hoophouses and two greenhouses on site, and construction will begin soon on their packing shed.

Ott said they have three goals at HDFI: student engagement, research and community outreach. One of the main things HDFI will do is applied research for small- and medium-sized farms in Nevada. She said she wants those kinds of farmers to be able to learn from what HDFI does.

“We’re really trying to be kind of the guinea pig for the ag industry so that they don’t have to do their own experiments on their own farm that may cost them money and jeopardize their business,” Ott said. “We’re really trying to help in that way, and it’s not just about agricultural research. It’s also the business side of things.”

HDFI has a few projects coming soon that Ott is very excited about. They received a specialty crop block grant they will use to test out a new variety of lettuce called Salanova Lettuce. They will probably begin planting this at the end of January.

“It’s leaf lettuce … on a head lettuce core, so to harvest you have to use this special tool,” Ott said. “Think of an apple being cored. It’s the same kind of concept for the lettuce, and all of the lettuce comes off in one fell swoop with all equal leaves.”

The only problem with this lettuce is that the seeds are much more expensive than other lettuce seeds, so HDFI will experiment with it to see if it is worth it—with possible labor savings and yield increases—for Nevada farmers to plant.

It also recently submitted an application for a grant from the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station to test out microbial soil enhancement products that are said to help reduce salinity and increase organic matter and nutrient availability in soil. They also hope to open a student farmstand in the spring to give students some experience in opening and running a new business.

In order to help get the information out about what they’ve done and help other farmers if they wish to do similar things, HDFI will be posting all the materials they created for the GAP audit as well as information sheets on their website.

“Maybe there’s something that we’ve done that people haven’t thought of,” Ott said. “Our goal is to really get the information out there and really be a transparent organization about what we’re doing and inviting people to come visit us.”