Small Scale Farm Op Only Miles from Las Vegas Strip Shows Promise of Desert Agriculture
March 4, 2013 | Jan Fletcher
Growing organic food in the desert is no easy task. But Marilyn Yamamoto, who cultivates several acres of land a short drive from the famed Los Vegas Strip, has transformed her acreage into a test garden to help gardeners in the area determine the most efficient plants to grow on their properties so as to provide quality healthy food for their families.
Yamamoto says the small-scale growing operation known as Cowboy Trail Farm, which she operates as nonprofit under the name ‘Organic Edibles LV, inc’, is a labor of love.
Yamamoto, a Master Gardener, says she first began to experiment with desert cultivation techniques a few years ago, when her organization received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She used the funds to acquire two hoop houses.
“The soil is terrible,” she says. “There are no nutrients whatsoever, and we had to amend all the soil that we have in the beds.” The hoop houses proved key to the success of the operation, because temperatures regularly plunge below freezing, she says. Eventually, the hobby farm plans to develop an educational effort aimed at instructing local residents in the value of natural cultivation techniques.
“I’ve always had a garden, wherever I’ve lived,” she says. “When I retired, I said, ‘Oh, let’s buy a piece of property, so I can grow a little more. It got a little crazy from there, and basically I started.”
Since the effort began six and a half years ago, a desert orchard has bloomed, under the careful nurturing of Yamamoto. Plums, pluots, apricots, pomegranates, pears, apples, figs, and persimmons are cultivated via organic methods, although the growing operation is not certified organic, she says. Yamamoto is exploring techniques to grow tropical trees in the desert, and is currently testing cultivation methods for papaya, bananas, pomelos, and mangoes.
The goal, she says, is not market-oriented, but educational. Lessons learned in cultivating organic food in a desert climate will be shared with the public, through free workshops she offers to local residents. Yamamoto’s work is also aimed at equipping residents with survival skills.
She currently offers local denizens a series of growing classes on creating edible gardens, and even teaches survivalist skills. “We just had one class on how to cook in solar ovens.” That might come in handy in the event of a lengthy power outage, says Yamamoto.
Around a half-dozen volunteers pitch in to cultivate the farm’s produce. “When we began experimenting with ways to share knowledge with those who were interested in backyard gardening, we discovered that people who wanted to grow their own food — not just as a hobby but as a necessity — they could no longer afford to purchase wholesome food for their families,” she says.
Her farm is also one of the first small-scale growing operations in the area to wade into aquaponic farming in a desert environment. She has also initiated a series of classes, held every few weeks, to instruct local citizens on how to start and maintain a garden in the harsh Southern Nevada desert.
As her cultivation interests progressed, she says it soon became evident the need was so great more funding would be required, so she formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation called Organic Edible LV, Inc. Current funding for the nonprofit comes from two sources: Donations and produce sales.
As the farm is further developed, she says it will provide larger quantities of organic produce, and the plan is to sell around half of the farm’s produce to local chefs. The proceeds, combined with donations, will be used to cover the operational cost of the garden, she says. The balance of the food produced will be distributed to people in need, or to organizations that already have programs in place to assist the elderly and others in need of nutritional assistance.
Produce is sold at a farm stand on her property. She converted a six-car garage into produce-storage facility that includes a washing station. Local residents may tour the operation, to learn about growing and processing produce, but she says it’s a private garden club, not a commercial enterprise. The intent is to teach, she says.
Marilyn Yamamoto will be speaking at Seedstock’s upcoming Nevada Indoor Agriculture Conference on April 24 at the Historic 5th Street School in Downtown Las Vegas. To learn more about the event, click on the link: http://agnevada.seedstock.com