By Marcus Lavergne
A journey through Reno, Nevada’s Midtown thrusts you from the city’s vintage, casino-filled backdrop into a Bohemian paradise abundant in everything from music to museums. There, a person can find a variety of shops and venues that provide goods ranging from art products to bottled craft beers. The area has gained a reputation for its urban growth and contemporary flair, with businesses that incorporate many of the styles and tastes of today’s youth.
On Friday, October 30, the area did, however, lose a slice of its own rural Americana culture in a 1-acre produce plot, which fed the community for the past three years. Lost City Farm provided fresh, organic produce to local restaurants as well as the Great Basin Community Food Cooperative. Farmers Toni Ortega and Lyndsey Langsdale leased the land in October 2012, but a $1-million price tag on permanently owning the land was too hefty for the partners.
Ortega and Langsdale have closed down the farm for the time being. The two are pursuing new land options in hopes of starting fresh. Although the price for land ownership was too high, Ortega said she understands. In an area that is growing consistently, it’s natural when things like this happen.
“This is our third year,” Ortega said. “Our lease just ended; the city loves us. We love farming, but as everyone knows, we’re on an upswing. It’s great for business. It’s great for some people who made the right move and purchased a home, but if anything it pushes us kind of out. The land is going to go up for sale. They want to sell it to a developer.”
Ortega said it’s only fair that the landowners are looking to sell their property. She did say that the owners offered her and Langsdale first dibs on the land. Ortega is hopeful that the two will find another place to farm, although it might not be in Midtown. The two have taken around 24 possible land sites into consideration, and in the winter, Lost City Farm plans to talk with many landowners.
Community support was vital to maintaining the farm, but according to Ortega, Lost City Farm was a positive piece of the area as well. She said it makes sense to have a sustainable area that supports the local economy and educates people where people can “happen upon the farm” and see and learn about where their food is grown.
She said having dialogue on the present and future of the farm is helpful and might even lead to new opportunities.
“I think that though it’s really disappointing for us to not renew the lease and we are in search of a new location to start a farm again, I think that the dialogue is really exciting,” Ortega said. “I think it’s exciting how many people want to be part of that dialogue, which really goes to show what the community-at-large’s priorities are for the redevelopment of Reno and the neighborhood we live in.”
Ortega and Langsdale didn’t solely rely on support from friends and neighbors, but also the city. Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus represents Ward 1 in Reno — the area that encompasses Midtown. Breckus has an extensive background in land use and urban planning, and she personally loved the farm.
Although the city doesn’t have much control over land sales and ownership, Brekhus said using the land for farming benefited the community. She believes having usable land for other projects that help with the revitalization of Reno are always positive.
“I do think there’s a growing, strong demand for locally grown food,” Brekhus said. “I think to that degree they succeeded as a business model. Also, what we have is a lot of underused parcels, and it is really great to have activity. Particularly, it adds some real interest and it was pretty and all, but also it prevents undesirable activity on these vacant lots.”
Lost City Farm, with the help of Brekhus and her husband Armando Ornelas, who takes care of his own backyard harvest, also accomplished the task of constructing new ordinances for urban farming — something that was not in place before the farm was established.
For Ortega, time is of the essence. She’s hoping to maintain momentum heading into the spring growing season, one of the periods where she said many people purchase their produce.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.