Hug embraces garden

School ‘food forest’ yields more than food

Hoop houses cover part of the veggie patch—one chunk of a “bioregional” garden that replaced lawn—at Hug High.

Hoop houses cover part of the veggie patch—one chunk of a “bioregional” garden that replaced lawn—at Hug High.

Photo By kat kerlin

Hug High School, 2880 Sutro St.

A year ago, the sloped plot of grass surrounding Hug High School’s outdoor basketball court did little else than trickle wasted water onto the concrete slab below. Now, it’s a place for the school’s culinary students to learn to grow, cook and eat seasonal foods, for biology classes to learn about bioregions and water conservation, and ultimately, for Hug High students and parents to use as a community garden—all while saving water.

The Hug High garden was installed last year with funding from Truckee Meadows Water Authority’s Landscape Retrofit Program. At the time, TMWA’s Lora Richards was at a loss for ideas about how to create a water-wise landscape on the sloping property. She called on landscape architect Tom Stille of River School Farms and Interpretive Gardens, who envisioned a bioregional theme. Now, 23,400 square feet of ripped out lawn later, one area of the L-shaped garden features a Sierra Nevada region with incense cedar, white fir and Jeffrey pine lining the hillside. A desert region at the hottest spot features drought-tolerant plants, like salvia, yarrow and lavender. Native Great Basin plants dot another patch. A riparian area features plants that grow along the Truckee River and require more water. A “food forest” grows edibles like strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus, mixed with fruit trees, and a veggie patch with hoop houses yields, during this cool season, Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, spinach and more.

The different areas will help students draw comparisons of the water needs of various landscapes—information that could help adults contemplating a water-wise yard, as well.

“The main goal of the garden is really water conservation,” said Stille during the garden’s public opening. The food produced is an added benefit. Even in the cold weather, Hug’s hoop houses provided enough salad greens to serve about 300 people during a school supper last winter.

“We plant our own vegetables,” said Hug culinary student Anthony Smith, 16, serving up a parsnip nut muffin he helped cook for the garden opening.

“There’s more food here than we can use in the class,” said culinary instructor Wayne Tuma, beaming. The remaining food goes to the Northern Nevada Food Bank and Great Basin Community Food Co-op. While it may seem sensible for food grown on school grounds to be served in the school cafeteria, distributor contracts currently prohibit it.

“We could do a salad bar in the school right now, but politically, they’re not ready for it,” said Josie Luciano of Urban Roots Garden Classrooms, which has been working with the students on the garden.

In the meantime, while Reno residents tend their own gardens, Tuma, students and other volunteers will help maintain this one throughout the summer.

The garden demonstrates possibilities, not just of gardening ideas for different regions and water resources, but also for growing food in unlikely places—like an urban, uneven school plot.

“Food is so critical now,” said Stille. “With peak oil, our industrial agricultural system runs on oil. Tractors, pesticides, fertilizers all run on oil. It’s important to teach how to grow food in our urban areas.”