Growing up in northern Nevada provided me with the perception of downtown Reno as my own urban backyard. Reno is a small city split in two by the Truckee River and nestled up to a beautiful stretch of the Sierra Nevada. Reno provides an opportunity to experience a little bit of “metro-life” with the ability to escape back into the remoteness of Nevada’s high deserts and alpine mountains.
Nevada’s “Biggest Little City” still has a bit of wildness at its doorstep as the small city reaches its developmental capacity. If you observe carefully you will see the wildness of nature between Reno’s urban streets, parks, and suburbs. Its suburban centers are sandwiched between the surrounding foothills and mountains to its busier urban strips that straddle the Truckee River. This juxtaposition of wildlands, streets, communities, and parks sets up a scenario where wildlife inhabits the margins throughout the city right down to the river’s edge in Wingfield Park in downtown Reno.
Flint Street Farm is a short distance uphill from the Truckee River in downtown Reno. The farm was first conceived when Rubik Environmental converted their parking lot into a garden. That garden has since evolved into a flourishing polyculture farm that produces fresh nutrient-rich produce for those underserved in the community.
The location of the farm is advantageous for food production as it is close to the Truckee River. The close proximity of the river provides a slightly higher humidity than the surrounding area, an area dominated by arid air. Reno’s premier commercial district is within walking distance and the Nevada Museum of Art and the Great Basin Food Coop are closeby. Flint Street Farm’s central location puts the farm in an ideal position to showcase what an urban farm can do.
When I first discovered a position as assistant farm production manager at Flint Street Farm I jumped at the opportunity. A few years earlier in 2015, I finished a Permaculture Design Course and had been eager to test my newly acquired knowledge and to further develop my skills in a production environment.
My first observations of Flint Street Farm were from beyond it’s fences before I was finally given a tour by farm manager Rebekah Stetson in early March 2020. The property had grabbed my attention a few years earlier as I traveled to and from the Great Basin Food Coop. The farm was still in wintertime dormancy with its 14 bare rows set parallel in a nearly square plot that fills around one-third of an acre. Even while the farm was dormant, a beehive springs to life with midday warmth.
Upon hire, I was already in a time crunch and had to quickly assess and map out the first tasks for the first weeks of March. As quickly as possible I began sprouting plants in the greenhouse, sowing seed in the rows, and shaping rows for an early Spring harvest with spinach, lettuce, kale, and radish in mind. By the end of March, our first sprouts were emerging, and protecting them was a key consideration. Finally, my ground-level observations brought me to realize that I had the unique opportunity to utilize Permaculture design principles on an existing organic farm in an urban setting.
What did I observe?
The most interesting takeaway from this season was the noted effect on Reno’s downtown population. Almost daily people came by to comment about the farm and express their delight in what they had observed. Some of the passersby became volunteers, others offered opportunities, some asked how to purchase produce, all in all positive interaction with the local population grew over the season. Another interesting observation involved wildlife interaction. Early in Spring, 30 or so robins would scour the beds for grubs in the twilight hours. In Summer hummingbirds darted around the flower beds. A covey of quail was born in the tall flowers and was reared into adolescence in Spring to finally leave the farm’s fences by June. A dove moved in near the honey bee water bowl and has at least once attempted to lay eggs near our greenhouse. She was spotted in her typical routine in mid-September, quietly trotting about the rows. A large pigeon has taken a liking to our slash pile area where it pecks for seed regularly. Wrens were seen darting in and out the tall flower bushes in September. A stray cat prowls for mice in the evenings and mornings, and a stray dog or perhaps a coyote patrols the perimeter and leaves its evidence behind in the night. Golden eagles and red hawks do a regular flyover in midday. It is my opinion that designing with natural patterns encourages interaction with the surrounding wildlife. As a benefit there were nearly no pest problems.
By integrating with nature we enhanced the farm, increased diversity, and benefited the health of plants and animals in and around the farm, which is also very aesthetic. Many of the comments from passersby are in regard to the floral explosion they saw shifting through the seasons. Daily walkers made it a part of their usual routine to pass by the farm. Others who work in the nearby office buildings do laps around the farm on breaks and meetings, and people who shop at the Great Basin Food Coop enjoy it as a reminder that nature is indeed at their doorstep. In a sense, Flint Street Farm became a demonstration of balance with nature in an urban setting.
Food Security = Equity
The third Permaculture ethic “Fair Share” can be challenging, however, this season at Flint Street Farm was opportune as my efforts to perform my job using Permaculture ethics and principles boosted the farm’s primary objective: to produce nutrient-dense organic vegetables for local organizations that help feed the underserved in the community. Flint Street Farm is a proactive venture that demonstrates small-scale food production and food security for urban communities. The farm also serves as a positive activity that strengthens urban centers with healthy-greener spaces that provide education and work opportunities for its residents.
Can Urban Farming combat climate change?
When more urban farms exist in a community the distance to provide food is shortened, this helps to reduce time and distance of distribution while reducing emissions from fossil fuels as we provide food for communities. Less frequent trucks traveling to deliver produce reduces pollution. There is also a healthy economic exchange with the creation of localized urban farming jobs in place of the factory farm, delivery, and warehouse jobs.
The existence of green spaces like Flint Street Farm in urban centers also has great potential to bring about better environmental health for those communities. If we extrapolate these benefits to regional scales, the result is more resilient populations with better economic diversity and environmental health. Urban farming in general has the potential to create a more resilient nation with a diverse economy that can better respond to whatever changes may come.
An Urban Farm for Every City Block
My experience at Flint Street Farm has convinced me that urban farms can be built in any community and are highly beneficial in mitigating negative consequences of industrial-scale food production and instabilities to food production caused by erratic climate changes. Urban farms also demonstrate and educate a way forward that respects nature.
Flint Street Farm is a small-third of an acre model that can be repeated in unused space in any city and because urban centers have the largest population, that will always have more unemployed and under-served, these are also the locations that need it most. Future cities would benefit greatly if urban communities invested in farms like Flint Street Farm-now, so that urban centers of the future are healthier and better integrated with nature. Look to any city anywhere in the world, every city can create urban farms like Flint Street for every city block.
For more information about Urban Farming visit the USDA National Agriculture Library for Urban Agriculture
Learn about sustainable Urban Agriculture and Urban Food Systems from the RUAF Global Partnership
Learn more about Permaculture from the Permaculture Research Institute
Canyon Cassidy is an opinion columnist for the Sierra Nevada Ally. He is a permaculture consultant and designer, working on several sustainable agricultural projects in northern Nevada. Support Canyon’s work for the Ally here.
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.