UNR event highlights local produce and advances in biotechnology.
Story & photos by Eric Cachinero
While traveling the streets near Reno's Valley Road, morning commuters and residents alike might not expect to see much more than an aging neighborhood, coupled with the occasional trumpet of the Union Pacific chugging in the distance. However, hidden amid the district are fertile fields that contain everything from an experimental vineyard and winery to some of the latest and most innovative advances in biotechnology.
The University of Nevada, Reno's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources and Cooperative Extension invited hundreds of local residents, farmers, and agricultural enthusiasts Saturday, September 8 to celebrate the annual Valley Road Field Day. The event took place at the 48-acre Agricultural Experimentation Station and featured everything from samples of fresh local produce to wine-tasting events spotlighting some of the program’s 12 varieties of wine made from grapes that are astonishingly grown right off of Interstate 80.
Sitting behind an immaculate array of fresh heirloom tomatoes, savory grapes, and the sweetest honey I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting, was Nikki Boyze of the River School Farm. Partnering with the College of Agriculture, the River School Farm provides local community space that includes everything from outdoor yoga classes to a large variety of locally grown organic produce. “It’s important to represent local food and local farms,” Boyze said. “It just makes sense.”
As I licked the last taste of honey from my lips, the announcement that the first tour of the day was beginning rang over the facility’s PA system. An enthusiastic crowd gathered as the biofuels and algae ponds tour got underway.
John Cushman, project leader for a biotechnology program that aims to develop algae as a practical renewable resource, explained the process of growing algae in one of the facility’s many greenhouses. Cushman explained how he hopes to eventually grow algae on municipal wastewater and turn it into an alternate fuel source. The project is gaining speed, and Cushman believes rising gas prices could speed the algae’s consideration as a practical alternative to gasoline.
The event appealed as much to children as veteran farmers. Hay wagon rides and various agricultural puzzle games kept youngsters occupied while their parents kept busy eyes on the research posters that lined the fence.
Living with Fire, a local organization that educates the public on ways to reduce the risk of wildfire, played a major role in making the day fun for children. Their construction of a miniature house gave children a chance to throw ping-pong balls—representing embers—at the structure in order to educate them on the danger areas of a home during a wildfire.
Tucked neatly among the greenhouses and algae ponds was the real reason the field day has increased in popularity: the vineyard, home to 12 varieties of grapes, which its students manage to ensure a productive and flavorful harvest. Also on site is the department’s winery, where the grapes are pressed, put into fermentation containers, and bottled and labeled. Grant Cramer, lead researcher, has shown that a wine/grape industry would be a viable economic development project for Nevada.
Soon enough, the heat of day set in, and as the event began to wind down and the wine began to ignite people’s appetites, a lunch of tri-tip, chili, and biscuits was served. The meal was provided by the college's Wolf Pack Meats.
As I grabbed one more slice of mouth-watering orange tomato for the road, I glanced toward the tractor transporting children around the vineyard and knew that the necessity for this event was vital. Our production of produce and advancement of biotechnology is absolutely essential to our community, and without Valley Road Field Day, most of these problems and advances might fall on deaf ears.