Among many of the social, economic, and cultural issues COVID-19 has cast light upon is that of our food supply and distribution networks—and the growing importance of strengthening more local and decentralized food systems.
There is a growing movement of urban and local farms (as well as an array of farmers within a 170-mile radius “food-shed”) who supply local restaurants, shoppers, and even those in need who may find themselves outside of any network providing easy access to nutritional wholesome food.
Flint Street Farm, located just south of the Great Basin Community Food Co-op, is one such farm, whose mission (beyond raising organic food using organic and permaculture practices in what used to be a parking lot) is to make sure that their produce is reaching the tables of those in need. In a recent 40-day stretch, Flint Street Farm distributed over 400 pounds directly to the community.
Rebekah Stetson, manager of Flint Street Farms, has been a long time regional advocate for organic farming, sustainable agriculture, community outreach, and the environment at large.
“All of the food that is grown here goes directly to benefit the community. We distribute food several days a week to the Community Health Alliance’s and Food Not Bombs. We also distribute to Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE), who does a potluck every Saturday night for our houseless neighbors … We have also given to Veterans Guest House, the senior complex of the Reno Housing Authority, and The Empowerment Center.”
Farm founders Todd and Debbie Leonard had a vision to create a growing gift to the community, food to directly benefit the underserved right here in our own home town. The Leonards and Rubik, the environmental remediation firm that owns the land, provide an active operating budget for the farm’s operations and distribution.
“The purpose of this little piece of land that’s been really prolific is to love others through service,” Stetson said.
And what doesn’t say love like flowers? Densely packed among the 20 varieties of tomatoes and peppers, 7 various basils, carrots, green beans, 4 squash varieties, watermelons, corn (not to mention the past-season spinach, lettuces, Swiss chard, kales, peas) are flowers: St. John’s wort, echinacea, calendula, floral amaranth (a potent superfood) and dahlias. And lots for the pollinators, too: sunflowers, daisies, bee balm, buckwheat, clover and more. What Rebekah verily calls a “food flower forest.”
Many of the flowers find their way to the outreach organizations listed above, also including The Community Health Alliance, who receive fresh bouquets from Flint Street Farms for the people visiting their clinics. Local herbalist Mary Mccallum of Radiant Heart Herbals produces salves and herbal remedies from some of Flint Street’s bountiful bouquet, bringing wound relief to some of the houseless served at Monday nights Food Not Bombs outreach.
“This is the first vegetable and flower garden that I have managed for production. And we’re using permaculture principles. I’ve seen prolific gardens before, but never did I imagine that this much abundance could come from such a small footprint,” said Stetson, reflecting on more than ten years owning and managing small family farms and gardens. She continued:
“In large scale, mono-cropped farms that do produce a good amount of food … there’s a huge lack of biodiversity. And as a result of that, there’s large use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. And what that does is kills all the life in the soil, which makes up the ecosystem, the biodiversity that makes soil grow well and makes what grows resistant to disease.
“The importance of biodiversity, not just in the dirt, but in every ecosystem, is that when you have a lot of different plants or animals or people working together in a community, you have a ton of resiliency. The antithesis is that when you are growing just hundreds of acres of corn, you essentially have a wasteland, where only corn will grow. And it wouldn’t even grow if you didn’t have the massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides [used to produce there].”
It is amazing to see what this small urban dense food flower forest does on a tenth-of-an-acre. (Take a look next time you are near the Co-Op, or walking up from the river!) But despite the good work of the farm, growing challenges still face the region at large.
As development pushes outward, we are losing large amounts of agricultural land and spaces within the Truckee Meadows. And for some former urban residents who have been forced further out to the edges or even beyond the valley, the challenge of living in a food desert, where accessing fresh produce (in some cases more than fifty miles away from home) becomes a burden.
Part of what Stetson thinks about looking into the future is operating within the “grey space,” between the black-and-white of development, where farms, gardens, and open spaces offset the heat-island effect of so many buildings and parking lots spreading out to the valley’s edges. As Reno is one of the top-five warming cities in the nation, more localized urban, suburban and regional farms could not only help offset the heat-island effect, but also bridge the gap in access for those marginalized by development’s trod forward.
“I think awareness and education are two of the biggest needs, as well as land…We have some really philanthropic humans in Todd and Debbie Leonard. By using this land in the way that they have—an urban farm that serves others—their actions have said that we don’t need more parking. We don’t need to have an economic advantage by having this land: we have another form of economy, which is the economy of sharing and gifting. That is what we want to use the land for.’”
When Anthony Postman is not working on music, or conceptualizing conversations for The Ally, he is pondering vegetable procurement and food sovereignty. Support his work in the Ally.