There’s a saying that “not all love stories start with roses, some start with petunias, too.”
It was Carson’s beautiful downtown petunia baskets we began seeing in the mid 2000s that became the first step in the journey to establish The Greenhouse Project that today has two established greenhouses providing several non-profits with sustainable fresh food for our food insecure and also operates as teaching facilities to encourage our high schoolers to pursue careers in agriculture.
Wanting to grow her own colorful petunias instead of importing them from California, Karen Abowd, president and founder of the non-profit, talked with fellow enthusiasts and the Carson City Cultural Commission in 2008 to propose the concept of a greenhouse. The idea was met with enthusiasm and the flowers you see in early summer are still nurtured in the 2160 square foot greenhouse built by Lopiccolo Construction officially opened on Dec. 17, 2011 on one-acre of land leased from Carson High. But that’s not all that is grown there.
It would make sense long time restaurateur Karen Abowd, who with her husband Charlie have fed thousands since they took over the venerable, but now closed, Adele’s in 1993, would be the driving force to start a project that would allow her to remain in the forefront of the sustainable food movement also known as “farm to table.” As she prophesized in an interview with Reno News and Review on April 3, 2014, “Agriculture and sustainability is going to be ever-increasingly important.” Adding, “With global warming and with all the issues that this world is facing, being able to be sustainable is huge.” Today, the original greenhouse continues to grow year-round vegetables and herbs and lives up to their promise of “growing, giving, and teaching for a healthier, greener, sustainable community.”
Also grown on the CHS campus is the awareness of a career opportunity for students as they prepare for their future. Through the Career and Technical Education department, Carson High began embracing the teaching of agricultural related courses and today offers four pathways to careers including three year sequences of Agricultural Science; Ornamental Horticulture/Greenhouse Management; Agricultural Leadership, Communication and Policy; and Floriculture Design and Management. The completion of the Greenhouse Management course can translate to entry-level skills for employment in that field. Today, almost 200 students are enrolled in the ag program as had been envisioned from the onset. A second teacher was recently added to accommodate the growing program.
Special Needs students, too, are learning about plants by watering, weeding, planting seedlings, and doing repetitive projects they have come to enthusiastically enjoy.
In 2017, a second greenhouse was erected in cooperation with Carson Tahoe Health on the westside of the medical center and today provides fresh vegetables to the Eagle Valley Children’s Home and Meals on Wheels. This facility, like the one at Carson High, is a teaching facility and encourages the public to learn how to grow and manage their own sustainable garden.
The major events surrounding the growing of The Greenhouse Project has occurred in December and this year is no exception. On Dec. 11, the ribbon was cut to open a third teaching facility available to students and the community to teach sustainable agriculture.
The 24X24 (the size of a two car garage) building designed by Mark Rotter of Manhard Consulting and built by Dale Brown of DRB Construction will serve as an indoor all-weather classroom providing all the amenities needed for teaching. The new classroom was partially funded through generous grants from the William N. Pennington and Robert Z. Hawkins Foundations as well as Carson Tahoe Health. Other major contributors included EPS, Rick Havenstrile of the Overhead Door Company of Sierra Nevada, and Dave Messer of Dave’s Supply. Local restaurants and other community leaders also contributed.
Abowd is grateful to all who assisted financially and in other ways to sprout this new building during this most trying time. She also hopes to be able to use the new classroom to attract the growing trend in agritourism to our community thus increasing overnight visitations that will further support our small businesses.
Another aspect of the success of this ever-growing non-profit is the hiring of John Ruiter as part-time executive director who will be able to relieve the busy board from the day-to-day operations and oversee fundraising. She stated, “Because of our continued success, our board realizes now is the time to become self-sustaining.”
A number of important fundraisers had to be canceled this year due to the pandemic; however, it is hope that the MaskurAid Ball will be able to attract those who would enjoy the Celebrity Chef Dinner set for the Governor’s Mansion on Jan. 4. For information contact Abowd at email@example.com. Because of current restrictions, attendance is limited.
Yes, it all began with those hanging baskets of beautiful petunias to fund the then fledgling non-profit while providing a visual welcome to our city. As Abowd stated in a Nevada Appeal interview on Dec. 4, 2010, “I originally envisioned a concept of producing hanging flower baskets for Carson City’s downtown business district.”