Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
When you think Las Vegas, farming and eco-conscious living are probably not the first two concepts that come to mind.
In fact, they may not come to mind at all, unless you’ve heard the buzz about locals getting in on urban farming. Between the nightlife and the 24-hour lifestyle, there is a community eager to change what it sees the city lacking: education about eco-living and access to fresh, healthy produce grown right here.
In an area where many have poor access to grocery stores and affordable eats — downtown — a movement around delivering freshly grown fruits and veggies has blossomed. Restaurants such as
PublicUs, Eat and Carson Kitchen incorporate farm-to-table finds. Gardens are being integrated into the curriculum at neighborhood schools through Green Our Planet. Chef Donald Lemperle and creative director Kelly Bennett of Vegenation are partnering with Vegas Roots Community Garden and Create a Change School Garden to change the way food can be served and enjoyed.
The first thing you see at the vegan eatery on East Carson Avenue and 7th Street is a community garden box. Sage, cilantro and lavender are budding in a neatly kept box thanks to Vegas Roots. Tomatoes, purple kale, basil and fresh herbs can be found at various times. With other local partners, Vegenation grows mint and strawberries on the back patio, offers tea from local growers at Blooming Desert Earth Farms and brews coffee from Frankly Good in Boulder City. On Jan. 11, Vegenation was recognized by the Green Restaurant Association, becoming the first restaurant downtown to meet all the standards, including composting, sustainability and water and energy efficiency.
Why the big push for local produce?
Bennett says being conscious about the environment and supportive of locals is in the “DNA of the restaurant.” Not only is food fresher when locally grown, but the optimal nutritional value is higher, she says. As soon as food is picked, key nutrients such as vitamins C, E and A begin to deteriorate. Exposure to air, artificial light and temperature change also can rapidly alter the value of food. In a desert, buying and eating local food also means preserving green, open space for the community. Bennett insists there is a connection to food when you can see exactly where it’s growing.
In free nutrition and eco-life workshops held by Vegenation, participants may pick produce and herbs from the community garden box to create their own food, learning the process from start to finish.
When it’s too hot to farm outside …
Indoor farms are where it’s at when the temperatures rise with the demand for more local ingredients. Urban Seed is a new farming facility in the first of eight phases aimed at building a 3-acre greenhouse at 4770 Wynn Road. These indoor gardens provide unique harvests, and are dramatically conserving water and eliminating dangerous practices of factory farms. What is grown here will be shared at local farmers markets and grocers, with nonprofits such as Three Square Food Bank and Green Chips, and will be accessible to the entire community.
How can you get your green fix?
Organic produce is commonly thought to be prohibitively spendy. To break this stereotype, Vegas Roots is launching a Veggie Bag program. Bring a reusable bag to the garden, 715 Tonopah Ave., on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and you can fill it inexpensively with whatever the garden is growing. It opens Feb. 4, when the Veggie Buck Truck will be making its rounds, selling exclusively local produce and accepting EBT cards.
Vegenation is beginning its Downtown Sustainability Council, and the restaurant will host workshops and provide education about greener living. Recent installments include Sprouting 101 and How to Start Growing Food.
Tips for finding fresher food
1. Learn which foods are in season and thriving in your region. If you are buying a fruit or vegetable that is difficult to grow or meant for spring and being sold in fall, chances are it is not local and went through a long process to get to your grocery store.
2. Check out a local farmers market and ask the person selling where his or her crop was grown and how it’s transported. Following farmers markets and community gardens on social media is a good way to stay in the know for upcoming events.
3. Pay attention to stickers on fruits and veggies. If it starts with “8,” it’s been genetically modified, while “9” means it’s organic.
4. Trying to buy organic is important, but if your food has to travel thousands of miles and be exposed to environmental hazards before reaching you, local food could be better overall for you and the environment.