My generation

Even in Northern Nevada’s growing organic movement, the family farm is in danger

Anthony Lesperance, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, says farmers need to watch out for themselves in these days of water greediness and budget cuts.

Anthony Lesperance, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, says farmers need to watch out for themselves in these days of water greediness and budget cuts.

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

Information from Bill Mewaldt’s presentation about the hows and whys of seed saving (and many other things) can be found on the Mewaldt Organics website at

“If we have time, I’ll tell you a way to grow zucchini without ever having to worry about squash bugs,” said the organic farmer, Bill Mewaldt. What worked so well to focus participants’ attention at a seed seminar would almost certainly work for a short article about the 2010 Nevada Small Farm Conference March 12 and 13 in Fallon. So read on.

In many ways, the opening speech, “The Next Generation: Farmer Innovations and How We’ll Keep Kids on the Farm,” was overshadowed by its introduction, given by Tony Lesperance, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Lesperance is plainly upset by the University of Nevada, Reno’s decision to close the College of Agriculture due to the continuing effects of the state budget crisis. Intuitively, part of keeping kids on the farm growing local food for local people is educating them on a college level. Lesperance got his own master’s degree in Range Livestock Nutrition from the University of Nevada. He also holds a doctorate in Animal Nutrition, Ecology, and Biochemistry from Oregon State University.

Lesperance maintained that part of the reason that the university can so thoughtlessly kill off the College of Agriculture is because so few people understand the real economic impacts of agriculture in this state.

“It’s about a $600 million a year industry, and that doesn’t include greenhouses or food processing,” he said. “That makes it about a billion dollars annually and another billion a year for indirect [economic impacts].”

People underestimate what the Nevada climate does for year round growing. “There’s one greenhouse in Southern Nevada,” he said, “that supplies all the cucumbers for all the Costcos in the United States.”

Part of that public underestimation relates to the fact that the industry has changed so quickly from cattle ranching to irrigated agriculture, from huge ranches to sustainable farms that feature small producers who often use organic methods.

Lesperance mentions other threats to Northern Nevada’s burgeoning sustainable agriculture movement, including Las Vegas’ insatiable thirst for water. He warned the farmers: “You people have the ability to demand action, and you will see results. … We could lose our water, and that would be the end of agriculture in the state of Nevada.”

But in the midst of the dangers to local farmers and the disappointment caused by UNR’s dismissal of the agriculture program, there are bright spots. When UNR shuts a door, it creates an opportunity for smaller colleges, like Western Nevada College in Fallon, to grow their own programs, such as the Specialty Crop Institute, which headed up this conference.

And here’s the secret to eating zucchini all summer. After a first planting begins to produce fruit, plant a second plot at least 15-20 feet away. The squash bugs land on the first planting and release pheromones, bringing all the squash bugs to the first set of plants. Mewaldt, owner of Mewaldt Organics near Fallon, had photographs to prove the method’s effectiveness.