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#Fridaysonthefarm: Partners Grow Community Garden in a Las Vegas Food Desert

#Fridaysonthefarm: Partners Grow Community Garden CoverStory and photos by Heather Emmons, Teri Knight and Melissa Blair, NRCS Nevada

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land. CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarm stories.


This Friday, pick kale, spinach, carrots and other fresh produce at the Zion Choice Neighborhood Community Garden Park at Zion United Methodist Church in North Las Vegas, an oasis in a food desert. For area residents, the one-acre community garden is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Partners Grow Community Garden Web Map

 

An Oasis in the Desert

“I never thought that could be a garden. It was always just a desert full of trash and broken glass.” -Shirley, member of Zion United Methodist Church. 

Left - Rachel Smith, member of Zion United Methodist Church, establishing plants in the raised bed. Right - artichoke blossom.Left – Rachel Smith, member of Zion United Methodist Church, establishing plants in the raised bed. Right – Artichoke blossom.  

The 100 member Zion United Methodist Church, which celebrated its 99th anniversary last November, is located in a low income, low-access food desert. Zion is surrounded by the three highest food insecurity zones with rates of 27.5 percent, 23.2 percent, and 21.5 percent -- well above Nevada’s overall 14.7 percent food insecurity rate. Food insecurity is the household-level economic and social condition of limited access to food—the higher the percentage, the higher the food insecurity rate.

In order to bring fresh produce to the area and teach community residents how to grow and prepare their own food, the Conservation District of Southern Nevada (CDSN), in partnership with Zion United Methodist Church, applied for an Urban Agriculture Conservation Initiative grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD). The $47,800 grant was one of many grants awarded by NACD in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NACD awarded $2 million in grants to 42 conservation districts in 25 states to boost technical assistance capacity for urban agriculture conservation projects.

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Left - Squash in the garden. Right - Amber Bosket, Conservation District of Southern Nevada.

“People need access to quality, nutritious and affordable food and the way to get that is to grow it locally,” said Amber Bosket, the Project Director and Board Secretary of the Conservation District of Southern Nevada, one of the forces behind this growing partnership.

Bosket is also owner and executive director of State Renewable Energy with her husband, Corrie, who donated the design and 3D model of the community garden.  

The Power of Partnership

Ray Dotson, Nevada NRCS state conservationist said, “The raw power of partnerships is on full display with this community based project that is led by the local leaders in conservation. The Conservation District of Southern Nevada made this happen – NRCS just followed their lead!”

Zion United Methodist Church celebrated the grand opening of their community garden with several partners last April.

“I am pleased to see the community support for the Zion Garden Park Agricultural Assistance Program project,” said NACD CEO Jeremy Peters. “In addition to technical assistance provided through the urban agriculture conservation grant from the Conservation District of Southern Nevada, it is remarkable to see the strong level of interest and support from the project’s many partners and community members.”

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A total of 40 traditional raised beds and 20 American Disability Act, or ADA, raised beds were ready for spring planting. In addition to the ADA raised beds, which are taller and narrower to accommodate wheel chairs, the garden features a permeable walkway, patio with shade structure, 30 shade trees, six benches and a composting area.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) is sponsoring half of the raised beds, paying the one-year rent ($60 per bed) for the low-income residents who will use them. The church charges the rent to cover water and other incidentals.

Over 500 seedlings of tomatoes, eggplant, okra and peppers were donated as a gift from students at West Career & Technical Academy, a local high school with a licensed nursery, to help new garden adopters get started. The students worked with a group of disabled young adults to plant the seedlings as part of one of their mentoring programs.

Upcoming events include a series of workshops in Spanish and English on nutrition and food preparation from University of Nevada Reno Cooperative Extension and Create a Change Now. Two seasonal high tunnels and a pollinator border will be installed under the Urban Agriculture Management Assistance program with USDA NRCS. Additionally, the conservation district is working on a Nevada Division of Forestry grant to establish an orchard with fruit trees for the garden.

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“Donations have surprised us on a regular basis,” said Teri Knight, NRCS district conservationist for the Las Vegas Field Office. “For example, we had funds to put a chain link fence around the garden. When the fence company saw the project…wrought iron was installed pro bono. This type of generosity has been repeated many times at Zion Garden -- the donations of the fence, culinary center, irrigation system, seeds and plants, education class -- the list goes on.”

A Model of Change

The Zion Choice Neighborhood Community Garden Park received the 2017 GREENfest Transformers Award from the U.S. Green Building Council Nevada and Green Alliance. This award recognized the garden as a leader in “making dramatic change in the community, while moving the mindset toward a sustainable society.” CDSN won the 2017 Sustainable Community award from Green Chips for the project. And the Nevada Association of Conservation Districts bestowed the 2016 Conservation Excellence in Agriculture award on the Zion Garden Park Agricultural Assistance Program and its partners.

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Just as the community garden continues to grow and blossom, so do the partnerships and friendships that will allow this effort to make a positive change in the lives of urban residents in the community of Zion United Methodist Church. Learn more about how NRCS works with urban farmers.

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Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook. View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.