What a year I’ve spent with the Desert Farming Initiative! I am a University of Nevada, Reno graduate with degrees in Ecohydrology and Spanish. Out of college my initial professional experience focused on land management on National Forests, and I found myself wanting to apply my knowledge of natural systems in a way that more directly benefited people. Agriculture appeared wonderfully situated at the juncture of natural science and communities, and I sought out the AmeriCorps service at the Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) to build my applied experience with agriculture. 

Over the course of my year with DFI I have learned to see each season come and go with the eyes of a farmer: temperature highs and lows, length of day, and weather patterns became inseparable from the implications they have for our plentiful varieties of produce and the shifting goings-on of the organization.

Through cold winter nights I empathized with our hardy kale plants out in the hoop houses: hoping we’d tucked them in with enough row cover to keep off the frost through the night. In the days I helped with repairs around the farm and worked on data analysis and planning for the coming year. I monitored eleven cover crops that we grew to trial their vigor and growth in our climate. The crops benefit our soil by reducing compaction, preventing erosion, and increasing nutrients in preparation for the growing season.

I spent much of the spring in our greenhouse: creating potting mix, starting seedlings, watering and caring for them. I helped to prepare thousands of little plants for our own farm, regional farmers, nurseries, and our community seedling sale. In the field and hoop housed we tended to the soil: adding amendments, aerating the ground with broadforks.

As the days lengthened into summer, I moved outside alongside the plants as they made their way into the ground and begun to be coaxed to maturity.  I learned to care for them: pruning tomatoes and cucumbers, removing weeds to reduce competition for water and nutrients, planting flowers to attract natural prey of the aphids that would sometimes plague our kale.

Autumn brought the biggest harvests: I learned the point of maturity for dozens of different vegetables, and how to harvest from each plant in a way that would promote healthy growth. I learned that the best leafy greens are those harvested in the crisp cool mornings before they redistribute water from leaves into roots in the hot hours of the day to avoid water loss through evapotranspiration.

In addition to developing experience with sustainable farming methods, I built my understanding of our local food system and what is being done to address food insecurity. DFI directs a good portion of its product to local food pantries and has become involved with outreach efforts to increase economic accessibility of local organic produce in our community. I was grateful to have the opportunity to take on a project promoting the use of SNAP (food stamp) benefits at farmers markets throughout northern Nevada. Another important aspect of my work that increased my sense of impact was serving as DFI’s volunteer and outreach coordinator. It was fulfilling to share our farm with interested members of our community and coordinate educational opportunities and events.

DFI provided me with the opportunity to serve my hometown by growing healthy food, working to improve farmers’ ability to implement sustainable practices, build the general community’s awareness of local food systems, and increase the consumption of fresh healthy produce of those most in need. I end my service eager to continue to apply my knowledge of natural resources, environmental science, and agriculture to improve the wellbeing and sustainability of communities.

Miller, A. 2021, Anna Miller Completes 1 Year of AmeriCorps Service!, Desert Farming Initiative - University of Nevada, Reno

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A.D. Guy AmeriCorps Member Recruitment
The UNR Extension, A.D. Guy Knowledge Center is recruiting for AmeriCorps members! Multiple positions are available. The date of service begins now and runs through July 31, 2021. Don't miss out on this great opportunity to support our youth and serve our community!
McGee, S., Rojas, A. 2021, University of Nevada, Reno Extension 4-H