Harvesting in early April
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Project MANA’s Stephanie Bloom and local food advocate Susie Sutphin talk about salad spinners and clothes dryers as Sutphin hand-washes freshly-picked greens in a small vat.
Bloom takes a leaf from the basin and holds it up to admire the coloration before eating it. Not only was the leaf sustainably grown and spectacularly verdant, but, judging by the way Bloom quickly snags a second helping, it was also absolutely delicious.
This week’s harvest was the first cutting from a garden grown in a geodesic dome (a strong, rounded structure ) greenhouse on a 20-acre property in the Juniper Hills subdivision near Glenshire. The 15 pounds of leafy green produce was donated to Project MANA for distribution at Tuesday’s distribution in Truckee.
The project’s mastermind, Bill Kelly, of the family-owned Kelly Brothers Painting in Truckee, says he hopes the starter garden will blossom into a economically viable, community farm with the ability to provide year-round, sustainably and locally grown produce to Project MANA and area residents.
When the operation expands, Kelly said, he plans to donate one unit of food to Project MANA for every two units he sells to the public.
and#8220;We are in the research and development phase of this right now,and#8221; Kelly said. and#8220;Today, we proved we can harvest.and#8221;
The idea for this project germinated several years ago.
As policy, Kelly Brothers Painting donates 5 percent of its profits to community causes. The Kelly family was involved with Project MANA’s community garden, but Bill Kelly wanted to take the relationship even further.
and#8220;I’ve always tried to grow my own gardens outside,and#8221; he said. and#8220;They are weak, and then it’s too hot or too cold. Those are the challenges of growing in Tahoe.and#8221;
Kelly began researching mountain growing techniques and found a Colorado-based company selling dome kits. He ordered one, installed it and began looking for the right person or group of people to help him make the project work.
At the same time, Sutphin had an epiphany.
The Tahoe/Truckee resident had been on a self-directed sabbatical in her native state of Ohio. Her online blog, http://www.foodlust.net, describes her journey and begins, and#8220;I have foodlust!and#8221;
Since 2010, she had been studying permaculture, regenerative farming, mychorrhiza fungi and other aspects of sustainable farming in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of sustainable growing practices.
She was worried she would never make it back to the Sierra when, one day, she had a change of perspective.
and#8220;I thought, I’m going home (to Tahoe/Truckee), and I’m not going anywhere else. We all have to be concerned about food, and non-producing regions need to be even more concerned,and#8221; she said. and#8220;That’s when I heard about what Bill was doing.and#8221;
The dome is a futuristic-looking structure that allows year-round growing through variety of passive technological applications, such as wax-filled hydraulic-like instruments that open and close the windows according to temperature, a water cistern connected to a system of pipes which keeps the appropriate temperatures at the roots of plants, and a physical design that diffuses sunlight throughout the interior of the structure to prevent sunburn on individual plants.
Sutphin plans to utilize a variety of growing principles and to take advantage of several ecological niches available in the dome. She will grow plants in nutrient-rich water without soil, plant crops that compliment each others needs, and in general create an ecosystem in which nutrients are reused and recreated within a repeating, sustaining system.
Planting beds in the dome are made from wood milled onsite, and the soil is native, supplemented with compost and materials generated locally.
In time, Kelly and Sutphin will add bluegill and coy fish to the cistern, and byproducts from the tank will provide potent fertilizer.
The current planting includes a variety of greens such as kale, spinach and chard, as well as a fig, kiwi and pomegranate tree. Dill and chamomile are also flourishing.
and#8220;I imagined this place before I came here,and#8221; said Sutphin. and#8220;I saw a growing structure on a hill.and#8221;
And Kelly believes in what he can imagine.
and#8220;This is where things thrive,and#8221; he said. and#8220;This is where life thrives.and#8221;