Using my worn, faded flannel shirt to clean the soil off of freshly harvested heirloom radishes, I expose the vegetables’ vibrant purple hue and offer a taste to my colleague Dave, a Polygrarian, who can’t help but excitedly acknowledge the sweet, crisp surprise. Soaking up the late morning Nevada sun, we continue our dialogue about the simple-yet-complex radish while packing up the rest of the harvested produce to keep cool, dust off our hand tools, and continue on to the next front-yard two blocks away in an old Reno neighborhood.
Upon arrival to the last of 10 sites that complete the neighborhood’s Cluster Farm, it becomes immediately clear that the tomatoes and peppers are finally ready to join the rest of the produce and grace the kitchens of almost 50 families by the end of the mid-summer day. Dave and his fellow Polygrarian’s will spend the afternoon delivering produce baskets to participating friends and neighbors, bridging the gap between national service and farming.
The preceding is a glimpse into the future of urban farming in northern Nevada.
Paraphrasing the words of General Stanley McChrystal, national service should be a cultural right-of-passage and every American should have the opportunity to serve their community and county in a meaningful way. Many brave Americans join the Armed Forces as a way to serve and others commit a year of their life to AmeriCorps.
Additionally, farming as a way to serve and create positive impact is becoming more common amongst Millennials, especially as the populace has started to pay closer attention to the foods they consume. Despite the increased interest in farming, however, opportunities to get involved are few and obstacles are many. Everything from lack of available land to the seasonality of work create barriers that can be tough to navigate.
To address the aforementioned barriers for our next generation of farmers and create a new way for Millennials such as Dave to participate in national service, the Polygrarian Institute (PI) has developed “Cluster Farming.”
The concept of a Cluster Farm was designed specifically to address three gaps in our food system: 1) access to land for new urban farmers; 2) food-deserts in urban communities; and, 3) intensive training through service learning for new farmers. To do this, PI will work with homeowners and businesses to lease underutilized land (e.g. the front yard) and convert it to suitable growing space by installing raised beds or more traditional rows, season extending high tunnels where permitted, and water efficient drip irrigation. By clustering 10-15 sites within a mile or less and aggregating the growing space, we have created a Cluster Farm with the ability to feed up to 50 families (of four) directly in that neighborhood.
Once a cluster of sites has been identified, PI will recruit and hire two national service members — or Polygrarians — that will be assigned to build, manage and maintain that particular Cluster Farm. Each Polygrarian will spend at least the next 12 months learning to farm, run a small business, and building community relationships that will transform the neighborhood. Each Polygrarian will work closely with homeowners and businesses to ensure neighborhood esthetics remain intact while simultaneously maximizing production efficiencies.
Furthermore, Polygrarian’s will work with participating families and businesses to identify what types of crops to plant and develop an in-depth, multi-year crop schedule that is sustainable and relevant to the folks participating.
Beginning this summer and through the fall, PI is working to identify potential neighborhoods to build one or two prototype Cluster Farms in the Reno-Sparks area. Are you tired of mowing your lawn and pulling weeds? Do you already have a garden that has become more labor than love? Do you have neighbors that you believe would enthusiastically participate? If so, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.
Don’t have land but want to be involved? PI is also seeking community volunteers and mentors to work with the Polygrarian’s throughout their year of service. Are you interested in becoming a Polygrarian? Once one or two neighborhoods are identified to build our prototype Cluster Farms, this fall PI will begin accepting applications.
Finally, to support the launch of this program, consider joining us for Beers & Bites at Under the Rose Brewing Company on Monday, Aug. 22 to raise funds for Polygrarian living stipends during their year of service. Tickets are $25 and include food prepared by the talented folks at Nothing To It, a pint from Under the Rose, and an intimate show by critically acclaimed folk-Americana musician Michael Fracasso (Austin, TX).
To learn more, please visit http://www.polygrarian.org.
The new owner of The Crossing at Tahoe Valley is Second Bay Holding Tahoe, LLC, based in Redwood City, Calif. The 46,041-square-foot center was originally constructed in 1973.