“Anyone who can get something to grow in northern Nevada has got a green thumb.” This local saying has more than a bit of truth to it. I live in a land of extremes—hot, dry summers and bitingly frigid winters—where the native plants have only managed to exist through extreme adaptations. The original native and settler peoples that made northern Nevada their home survived by creating close communities and working the desert land to create their own food sources.
Today my rural town (Winnemucca, population around 9,000) has many more resources available, but residents cite lack of affordable activities for children, youth, and adults as three of the major problems facing our community (Humboldt County Needs Assessment, 2005) and nearly 40% of our elementary school students receive free or reduced lunches (www.publicschoolsreport.com). Most all of our food (except for potatoes!) must be shipped in from elsewhere. A majority of residents either do not have the means (they live in an apartment) or the knowledge to grow their own food.
As an AmeriCorps*VISTA member serving with the Winnemucca Community Garden (www.winnegarden.org) for the last two years I have built the capacity of my organization to address these issues. The Winnemucca Community Garden was established in 2002 as a non-profit dedicated to promoting horticultural and environmental knowledge. The garden occupies 2.5 acres of city property located next to an elementary school in a residential area.
My outreach has helped grow the reputation of our community garden so that we have gone from having half of our plots vacant to needing a waiting list. There are currently over 100 gardeners and volunteers involved with our community garden. Our members speak several different languages (Tagalog, Spanish, Russian), have varied income levels, garden as individuals or families, and include everyone from babies to those well in their nineties.
In addition to encouraging the development of our gardening community, I also have focused on making gardening knowledge and fun events available to the entire Winnemucca community. Each spring and fall I organize two special events (celebrating Earth Day and the harvest, respectively) with over 700 people in combined attendance. I have recruited local experts to hold workshops on topics ranging from native plants to fruit tree care and pruning. Last spring I created a display at the local library highlighting our programs, as well as the wonderful gardening resource books available from the library.
Over the past two years I have spearheaded the growth of an organization from an unknown community entity to a recognized and celebrated United Way partner. I have written and received grants totaling over $100,000. My biggest accomplishment, however, might simply have been getting a garden to grow in the unforgiving high alpine desert of northern Nevada!