I recently attended the Nevada Small Farm Conference in Reno. The participants were primarily local small farmers passionate about what they do. They believe that "Farming isn't a way of life; it's the why of life." A number of these farmers have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in which people buy a subscription for a regular delivery of fresh produce and sometimes eggs, chickens and other meats.
These hard-working folks grow many of the crops you might expect, such as carrots, spinach and greens, but they also raise more ethnic or exotic crops such as kohlrabi, arugula, bok choy and ginger. I learned about the various crops, the importance of testing soil temperature and various ventilation and cooling techniques for hoop houses.
I heard from the Washoe County School District Nutrition Services director. If you think feeding a family is a challenge, try feeding all the children in the Washoe County schools. It requires 3 million pieces of fresh fruit and veggies per year in lots of 20,000 to 25,000 at a time. These items have to reach the children at the cost of about $1 per day. A spokesperson for Whole Foods was there to explain how they purchase to satisfy food trends and preferences including niche foods, super foods, fermented foods, vegan, gluten-free and so much more.
Some CSAs partner with their members for help on the farm: planting, weeding, harvesting and even slaughtering the chickens. Some CSAs are certified organic, including their meat. Some deliver weekly, others biweekly and still others deliver at their customer's request. Amount of produce varies with the size of the subscription you order.
I also learned about raising chickens. There are heirloom and heritage breeds of chickens just as there are heirloom tomatoes. The average chicken produces about 200 eggs per year when it's healthy and content. You should collect eggs at least a couple of times a day. It takes six to seven months for a hen to begin laying. There is a resting time when hens don't lay, which is influenced by the breed, light and temperature. Chickens need room to roost, nest, scratch and dust themselves safely away from predators. They are curious and want something to do.
When you support local small farmers, the next time you eat an egg or fresh produce you can personally thank your farmer who did all the work to bring that fresh tasty food to you.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-887-2252.