By Kyly Clark, Marina McCoy and Halle Daubner
Spring has sprung, and it’s time to feed our appetite for the summer. Three students from Sierra Nevada College, including Kyly Clark, Marina McCoy and Halle Daubner, set out to find local food in the Tahoe Basin.
It is no surprise that the Northern California and Nevada climate may be discouraging to some and provide a challenge for farmers and growers in the area. Yet, after speaking with several local farmers, things are looking up. Even if you don’t grow it yourself, it doesn’t mean you can’t find it nearby! Typically, food travels a distance of 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate. We think food can be defined as local if it’s grown within 300 miles, and this is what we found.
High Elevation Gardening
Julie Glander, a local Tahoe food gardener for 30 years, lives in Tahoe City with her husband, Gary, at an elevation of 6,400 feet. She says, “Our inspiration comes from the fact that the food tastes better, it is cheaper to grow your own, and we both love the outdoors and it is fun!” She explains that weather is the biggest obstacle, with a very short growing season, generally under 65 days compared to an average growing season of 90 days. Poor nutrient soil consequently limits the variety, but this just means that growing in Tahoe requires better planning, appropriate food selection, and additional organic material added to the soil and compost.
Within this short amount of time, the Glanders have selected foods that have a short maturity to produce, such as cherry tomatoes, kale, spinach, three varieties of lettuce, chard and oriental greens, as well as broccoli, snap peas, turnips, onions, pumpkins, three types of beans, green zucchini, and squashes including golden, summer, scalloped, spaghetti, gentry, and crookneck. All are perennials, including the herbs oregano, sage, mint, thyme and lemon balm. The annuals that must be planted every year include rosemary, basil and nasturtium.
Regarding the triple bottom line for sustainability, Glander explains that she saves money by gardening in the summer months. Environmentally, she contributes by composting, with nothing sweet to attract the bears, and no dairy or meat products to attract dogs. As for water use, she uses grey rinse water from the kitchen, so there isn’t excess water use in the garden. Socially, she enjoys the lifestyle, as she grows only for her family and gives away the extra produce. Glander’s advice to those who are interested in getting started is to start small, with containers, to provide a mobile setup if renting a house, as beds require more space and permanent residence. When growing in high altitude, one should do his or her research and make sure to buy non-GMO and organic seeds: a good place to start is Burpee, Baker Creek, and Territorial Seeds. If this isn’t feasible, visit the local farmer’s market as your dollar will benefit the economy and the local family.