This fact sheet presents highlights from the Food Action Planning Committee Meeting and the subsequent Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum held at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in partnership with the Southern Nevada Strong (SNS) initiative and the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition. A short history of the Southern Nevada Food Council is included for reference. Additionally, a summary of participant feedback and evaluation results are included.
The Coalition received a presentation from a local team of urban agriculture proponents (Rick Van Diepen, Rick Passo and Ric Jimenez) about vertical farming and urban agriculture planning and possibilities on Sept. 27, 2016 (Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition, 2016). Out of this presentation, a motion to hold a summit focused on urban agriculture and economic diversification was introduced and passed by members of the Coalition. Months later, Extension offered to organize the event in collaboration with the urban agriculture proponents and staff from the Coalition and SNS.
The partnership between Extension and SNS facilitated the organization of the forum for the Coalition. Extension’s mission “…to discover, develop, disseminate, preserve and use knowledge to strengthen the social, economic and environmental well-being of people,” and its Extension functions revolving around food, agriculture, health and nutrition, among others, placed it as an ideal venue with excellent resources to facilitate the forum. The SNS staff saw this forum as an opportunity to complement their efforts to implement the SNS Regional Comprehensive Plan, especially with regard to food-related strategies, and thus acted to support the event and become a forum partner.
The purpose of this meeting was to identify food policy goals and objectives as outlined in the Southern Nevada Strong plan for the purpose of examining strategies to implement a food action plan for Southern Nevada. Members and supporters that were on the Southern Nevada Food Council update distribution list were invited to ensure they were included in the discussion as it pertained to the future direction of the Council.
The food system can be complex and consist of many elements including the activities, the people and the resources that take food from the field to the plate. Consequently, all of these elements are intertwined with public health, equity issues, and the environment and can influence each other (Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, 2017). Thus, a group of stakeholders representing various elements of the food system that come together with the goal of improving the food system through collaboration, systems and policy change is often referred to as a food policy council (Burgan & Winne, 2012).
The Vegas Valley Community Food Council was created by Three Square Food Bank after it held a public brainstorming meeting in August 2011 to determine the community’s interest in food policy issues and to lay the groundwork for a potential food policy council in southern Nevada. Issues that had emerged from that meeting were as follows:
Much progress has been made on these issues since the initial meeting in 2011, some attributable to the collaboration and efforts made by several organizations initially invested in the Council. These organizations included Three Square Food Bank, Southern Nevada Health District, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Project Angel Faces, City of Las Vegas, Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, Las Vegas Farmers Market, and a handful of passionate individuals, all of whom participated and supported Council meetings and early collaborations.
Staff from Three Square Food Bank facilitated the meetings which initially were held on their premises and later were moved to different locations in the spirit of collaboration. A Farms and Family Festival was held by Council members in May 2012 at the Springs Preserve to help educate the community about local food production. Membership was voluntary, and people or organizations who regularly contributed or attended meetings were considered members.
The Southern Nevada Health District secured technical assistance from a food policy council expert, Mark Winne, to help with strategic planning. A white paper (Vegas Valley Community Food Council, 2012) was developed in anticipation of the strategic planning session, which was conducted at the Springs Preserve on Nov. 16, 2012, with Council members and others interested in supporting a local food policy council. Structure of the early Council following the planning session was kept informal, since members wanted to maintain it as a grassroots organization that would not be subject to external rules or regulations. In May 2013, the name of the Council was changed to the Southern Nevada Food Council to better represent the region and be more inclusive of the rural areas that contribute to the local food system and surround the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area.
Facilitation of Council meetings was handed over to the staff at the Health Department Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in late 2013. Meetings provided an opportunity for people to network and learn about each other’s work in the food system. Health Department staff sent out monthly updates to keep members apprised of grant or collaboration opportunities, news, member or other food-related events, and updates on policy, especially when the Nevada Legislature was in session.
In April 2016, facilitation of the Council moved to University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Clark County. With the increasing interest and push for local food production, it became evident that a more formal council structure would be needed to move from simply networking and exchanging information to effecting systems and policy change with the purpose of improving the local food system. Thus the Food Action Planning Committee Meeting was held to engage members and receive guidance from a recognized food-system and food-policy expert.
The meeting began with a welcome announcement from Extension Southern Area Director, Eric Killian, and was followed by an overview and update from the Council by Extension Public Health Nutrition Specialist, Aurora Buffington. The meeting also featured a presentation about SNS goals and objectives relating to urban agriculture and healthy food systems by Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada Regional Planning Manager, Rae Lathrop, and breakout planning sessions to brainstorm solutions for food-related SNS strategies.
The Southern Nevada Strong (SNS) Regional Plan is a comprehensive plan for growth and development which addresses transportation, housing, education and healthcare (Southern Nevada Strong, 2015). Recognizing that the SNS Regional Plan contained many food-related strategies, SNS staff shared some of those strategies (Table 1) with meeting participants to stimulate thought on implementation and who should be or already was involved. This presentation was followed by planning sessions.
Participants were split into three groups that examined one or two SNS strategies at a time, then they were asked to brainstorm and list key stakeholders, activities or programs, and opportunities or challenges that would fall under the strategies. In some cases stakeholders were already doing the work, in others, they were presented as good candidates. Some activities on the lists were ideas or best practices happening outside of southern Nevada, while others were already being implemented. The goal of the session was to generate a list for each food, or agriculture-related SNS strategy (Table 1).
Table 1 – Planning Session Group Activity Food Action Planning Committee Meeting, Aug. 23, 2017
SNS Strategy 3.2.1: To advance the priorities of Food Security in Nevada, Nevada’s Plan for Action, support in-depth research on existing or emerging geographic concentrations of food-insecure populations within Clark County.
SNS Strategy 3.2.2: Support and coordinate with organizations working to increase access to healthy food options, including Southern Nevada Health District, Southern Nevada Food Council and the School of Community Health Sciences at University of Nevada Las Vegas, to identify underserved areas that could support healthy food outlets, urban agriculture, community gardens and farmers markets.
SNS Strategy 3.2.3: Promote healthy food options and ensure Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) benefits are available in areas with concentrations of fast food outlets that also have high food insecurity rates.
SNS Strategy 3.1.1: Work with the healthcare industry to promote community wellness, and become partners with municipalities to build “healthy communities,” like those championed by the Centers for Disease Control.
SNS Strategy 3.1.4: Partner with organizations that are promoting wellness programs and working to reduce obesity and childhood obesity.
SNS Strategy 5.8.3: Introduce regional composting pilot program utilizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-supported best practices for establishing a composting program.
*Indicates an activity that is currently underway in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area. +Name of individual excluded. Words and phrases are listed as participants gave them during the planning session.
The meeting concluded with a message from an international speaker, Wayne Roberts, a Canadian food-policy analyst and writer leading in the field of innovative local and urban food systems. Roberts said he was impressed by the participants’ skills, SNS plans and the positive energy. He proceeded to provide his observations highlighting three areas: strengths, food as a tool and quick starts.
The following day consisted of the 2017 Southern Nevada Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum featuring Roberts as the keynote speaker. The forum’s purpose was to create a blueprint for urban agriculture policy and economic diversification to support an equitable and sustainable food system for southern Nevada. The forum consisted of panels and presentations, as well as extracurricular activities that showcased urban agriculture.
The forum started with a tour of Extension’s Botanical Gardens provided by Master Gardener volunteers. The Gardens showcase over 1,300 species of plants, including trees, shrubs, perennials, cacti and agaves that grow in the desert. Some favorites include the herb garden, palm tree demonstrations, small fruit orchard, composting section, vegetable garden and a rose garden among others. The gardens are maintained by UNCE Master Gardeners who possess advanced plant-science skills and have earned their certification by attending 50+ hours of classroom instruction. In order to maintain their certification, Master Gardeners commit to serving a minimum of 50 volunteer hours in the community annually.
Opening presentations were designed to provide a foundation for concepts related to urban and indoor agriculture. SNS staff provided a review of the SNS Regional Plan, highlighting its food related strategies. Corrie Bosket, Extension coordinator of conservation issues, provided an overview of other food-related plans, policies, documents and related research including:
A brief explanation of SB 429, an act establishing provisions relating to urban agriculture, was provided by Sen. Yvanna D. Cancela, chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, who introduced the bill during the 79th (2017) Session of the Nevada Legislature. The Senator explained the intent of the bill was to make it easier to grow locally, and she acknowledged that more work needed to be done now that the bill was passed. This session concluded with a Council update highlighting the prior day’s meeting.
In Robert’s keynote presentation, he shared his expertise to help southern Nevada take the next steps toward developing a strong food city. Highlights from his presentation included collaboration strategies, food city examples, and recommendations for implementation of strategic plans.
The next presentation was the panel discussion titled, “The Food Nexus,” led by Extension Public Health Nutrition Specialist, Aurora Buffington. Panelists included Principal of Green View Global, Rick Van Diepen; Director of the Vegas Roots Community Garden, Roz Brooks; and Strategic Director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, Andy Bellatti. The discussion was opened with a presentation by Buffington addressing the food system from production to consumption. The panel discussion provided perspective into the complex relationships between food, water, energy, environment, health, and nutrition.
The panel discussion was followed by the “Off the Wall” Live Chef Demonstration and Luncheon. Chef of Buzz Catering and Master Gardener, Joann Reckling, harvested fresh lettuce directly from the aeroponic living wall on display provided by Indoor Farms of America. Also on display was the hydroponic GrowWall from OPCOM Farm. Chef Joann prepared a garden salad using the different types of herbs and lettuce harvested from the wall while explaining many of the characteristics unique to the salad ingredients.
Following the luncheon, three indoor agriculture companies each gave presentations highlighting various aspects of indoor agriculture through vertical hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. These presentations complemented aspects of the Commercial Indoor Agriculture Report from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Presenters included CEO of Green Sense Farms, Robert Colangelo; Vice President of Urban Seed, Rachel Wenman; and CEO of Indoor Farms of America, David Martin. Each presenter shared personal experiences and insight into how vertical farming can be used to bring fresh, locally grown produce to anywhere in the world. Key points addressed how indoor farming can produce more food with less environmental impact and touched on the business model and economic viability of indoor agriculture.
The next presentation was the panel discussion titled, “STEM, CTE, and Workforce Development for Urban Agriculture,” and was led by Executive Director of State Renewable Energy: Green STEM Education, Amber Bosket. The panelists consisted of academia professionals including University of Nevada, Las Vegas Professor and Program Coordinator of Career and Technical Education, Howard R.D. Gordon; Extension Social Horticulture Specialist, Angela O’Callaghan; and Clark County School District School-Community Partnership Program Coordinator, Cheryl Wagner. The discussion opened with a presentation by Bosket explaining STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and showing examples of local Career and Technical Education programs addressing high-tech urban agriculture. The panel discussion provided insight about how STEM and Career and Technical Education can prepare the future agriculture workforce through continuing education and interchangeable career pathways.
In closing, Roberts gave a summary of his recommendations that he spoke about during the Food Action Planning Committee Meeting and his afternoon keynote speech. The event concluded with a networking social to allow speakers and attendees to interact and engage in further discussion of the next steps to creating a robust food system in southern Nevada. Roberts has since produced a blog that includes his insight and recounts his visit (Roberts, 2017).
The day’s events were moderated by Extension Coordinator of Conservation Issues, Corrie Bosket, and the event included a catered breakfast and lunch, and afternoon snacks. The planning committee for the event included Corrie Bosket, Extension Coordinator of Conservation Issues; Aurora Buffington, Extension Public Health Nutrition Specialist; Millicent Braxton-Calhoun, Extension Healthy Food Systems Program Officer; Raymond Hess, Regional Transportation Commission Director of Planning Services; Rae Lathrop, Regional Transportation Commission Regional Planning Manager; Paul Gully, Regional Transportation Commission Management Analyst; Shane Ammerman, Clark County Planning Manager; Mario Bermudez, Clark County Planning Manager, Jared Tasko, Clark County Senior Planner; Wayne Roberts, Canadian Food Policy Analyst; Rick Passo, Food Hub Strategist; Rick Van Diepen, Principal of Green View Global; and Amber Bosket, Executive Director of State Renewable Energy: Green STEM Education. The forum recorded 118 attendees, not including additional unregistered attendees.
To complement the forum, a planning group tour of urban agriculture sites in the Las Vegas Valley was scheduled to give a hands-on perspective of what can be done in the region. The tour was originally scheduled for Aug. 22, 2017, but was canceled due to flight delays. Thus, a revised tour took place the Saturday following the forum on Aug. 26, 2017. This tour, attended by a group of food-system specialists, included stops at the Zion Community Garden Park, Indoor Farms of America, and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. The tour developed into a food harvesting experience that led to a farm-to-plate dinner. At each stop, produce was gathered for the preparation of a meal that evening, which was attended by the group, as well as food producers from the various tour stops (Bosket, 2017).
By the numbers:
Food Action Planning Committee Meeting feedback was obtained using five possible responses which included: excellent, adequate, neutral, needed improvement or N/A. The percentage of total respondents giving an excellent or adequate rating follows:
Thirty-five responses were provided when asked for one takeaway from the Food Action Planning Committee Meeting (Table 2). The most common words found in the responses include:
Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum feedback was obtained using five possible responses which included: excellent, adequate, neutral, needed improvement or N/A. The percentage of total respondents giving an excellent or adequate rating follows:
Twenty-eight responses (after removing “did not attend” responses) were provided when asked for one takeaway from the Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum (Table 3). The most common words found in the responses include:
Respondent opinions on how well specific program elements contributed to meeting Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum goals was obtained using four possible responses which included: greatly contributed, fairly contributed, neutral or did not contribute. The percentage of total respondents giving ratings of fairly or greatly contributed to forum goals follows:
Nineteen responses were provided when asked what additional topics/conversations that would have helped meet the overall forum goal (Table 4). The most common words found in the responses include:
Fifty people responded to how they were interested in supporting the Southern Nevada Food Council. Following are the responses (and percentages) for each proposed role:
Fifty-four people classified themselves as representing the food system in the following manner:
Respondents were able to provide more than one response, and it is interesting to note that not everyone identified as an eater/consumer, although everyone eats. Among those that responded in the other category, responses included: government, higher education, rural community member and commercial food service specialist for a local utility company.
People attended for a variety of reasons and in the following order of importance:
Learning, or adding to one’s knowledge base, was by far the most important reason for attending with 67 percent of the total 54 respondents rating this reason as their primary reason for attending. This forum was approved to provide up to 6 Certification Maintenance (CM) credits for certified planners.
A healthier, more resilient and sustainable food system is possible in Las Vegas by means of efforts such as the implementation of food-related activities contained in the SNS Plan objectives, as well as a community wide effort to increase local food production and food distribution through urban agriculture. Additional research support from the area’s institutions of higher education would greatly benefit the movement, as local data is limited. Urban agriculture, whether it be from a commercial-scale indoor agriculture operation or small urban farms, will not only help build a stronger local food system by increasing local production thus contributing to food independence, it will provide opportunities for economic diversification and job creation. Nevada’s hospitality industry spends over $2 billion every year on food brought in from outside the state (Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, 2013). Much of that demand is from high-quality restaurants that are willing to feature locally grown products on their menus, so there is a need for quantity as well as quality food items. A limited amount of scholarly publications provide evidence that urban agriculture projects can lead to job creation, training, and small-business start-ups (Golden, 2013). Locally produced food will help keep more money in the local community while increasing resilience.
Southern Nevada is a logical place to launch urban agriculture projects with an emphasis on controlled environment agriculture, which provides a more sustainable method to grow food through the use of resource-saving technological advances. Las Vegas, located in the Mojave Desert, with its arid climate and abundant source of energy from the sun, recently became one of the nation’s largest cities to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy (City of Las Vegas, 2018), and Nevada was ranked among the top 10 states for sustainable building design by the U.S. Green Building Council. Environmental sustainability is important to southern Nevadans and controlled environment agriculture projects will help strengthen the local food system in a sustainable manner.
The potential benefits associated with urban agriculture, however, do not stop with economic or environmental impacts. Urban agriculture has the potential to positively impact community health and well-being. Urban agriculture, including aquaponics and gardening in the home, school, and community settings, may help reduce food insecurity by providing a means for residents living in food deserts to produce their own food and become more self-reliant. Urban agriculture may help revitalize blighted areas, reduce crime and build stronger social connections, while providing an avenue for added-value entrepreneurial opportunities through cottage food operations and other small-business enterprises. The increased availability of fresh produce may also help increase dietary intake of fruits and vegetables, which are beneficial in the prevention of chronic disease and help residents eat in a more health-promoting manner, thereby increasing quality of life (Golden, 2013). Urban agriculture is a promising strategy to help build a healthier, more sustainable and resilient food system.
The Food Action Planning Committee Meeting and the Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum brought together professionals from government, academia, health and food-related industries to address how urban agriculture can be used to increase food sustainability and food security, and build a stronger food system. The diverse line-up of speakers and topics gave attendees a well-rounded perspective and a strong foundation to help take the next steps to establishing food resiliency in southern Nevada.
Table 2 – What is one takeaway from the Food Action Planning Committee meeting that you would like to share?
Table 3 – What is one takeaway from the Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum that you would like to share?
Table 4 – What additional topics/conversations do you feel would have helped meet the overall forum goal?
Extension's Communication Team
Buffington, A., and Bosket, C., 2017, Evaluation of Food Action Planning Committee Meeting and Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum, August 23-24, 2017, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, SP-18-01
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