VIDEO: Tahoe resort grows sustainable greens with hydroponic roof garden
Visit squawcreek.com to learn more about the Resort at Squaw Creek and Rooftop Roots.
Read more in Lake Tahoe Home
This story is featured in the September 2016 edition of Lake Tahoe Home, a magazine produced by the staff at Tahoe Magazine and the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Tahoe Daily Tribune newspapers. Look for the magazine on newsstands throughout the greater Truckee-Tahoe region starting next Wednesday.
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — “I can’t talk right now,” says Tim Hmay, overcome by a smack of peppery zest as he gnaws on a freshly plucked leaf of arugula.
A few chews later, the Executive Chef at the Resort at Squaw Creek can only muster one word after the flavor fades: “Fantastic.”
He’s not kidding.
I’m getting a tour of the Resort at Squaw Creek’s new state-of-the-art hydroponic system and on-property rooftop garden called Rooftop Roots, and my taste buds are stimulated as Hmay hands me sample after sample of micro-greens, sending a parade of flavors across my tongue — from the subtle (celery) to the strong (horseradish).
“We are 100 percent sustainable in-house in terms of herbs and micro-greens,” Hmay says. “We’re not buying any herbs or micro-greens anymore. Every herb that is used here is grown here — and we go through a lot of herbs here.
“And the flavor profile is outstanding.”
Simply put, with the resort’s fresh approach to sourcing its produce on-property, Hmay and his fellow chefs are bolstering their recipes with a variety of sustainable and seasonal vegetables and herbs — from lettuce and tomatoes to rosemary and basil.
Rooftop Roots, a 1,500-square-foot garden, was planted on top of Sweet Potatoes Deli during the spring of 2016.
The produce from the garden will be incorporated into menu selections for the resort’s Six Peaks Grille, Sandy’s Pub, Cascades, Sweet Potatoes Deli and group/corporate meetings at the hotel.
And this, Hmay says, is only the beginning for Rooftop Roots.
“We are looking at expanding this full table to three tables,” says Hmay, pointing to rows of bok choy, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers and more. “This whole process is just a baby in terms of what we’re doing and how far we want to go with it. The chefs are pretty excited.”
PLANTING THE SEED
The concept of an on-property garden at Resort at Squaw Creek first began a few years ago when the resort began growing its own herbs in a small garden for a garden-to-glass drink menu at Six Peaks. (For example, Six Peaks mixologist Tam French uses fresh garden grown mint in her Tahoe Tea cocktail.)
For André Priemer, general manager of the Resort at Squaw Creek, it seemed only natural to let the garden program, well, grow.
“We started to dream big and we wanted to be sustained not only for our drinks, but also for our food,” he said. “We’ve been very successful, and we are now actually able to produce enough herbs to be self-sustaining, which is unheard of for a large-sized operation like ours — we are a four-diamond hotel with 405 rooms.”
Priemer said the resort anticipates it will produce an excess of vegetables and herbs, so the resort is partnering with Tahoe Food Hub and plans to sell the surplus from the 1,500-square-foot garden to the nonprofit organization.
In addition, Priemer said, the resort has plans to work with the local school district — Truckee Tahoe Unified School District — to introduce them to hydroponic gardening.
“We want to increase our green footprint and we did that very successfully,” Premier said. “And we continue to do so. Our ownership is very supportive of it and will continue to support our efforts in growing our green footprint on our property and in Lake Tahoe.”
There is such a thing as loving a place to death, and with the growing masses visiting Lake Tahoe every year, overtourism is a top issue.