Behind the chain link fence attached to Craig Frezzette’s home on West Plumb Lane are three large hoop houses covered in white tarp to protect the rows of vegetables growing inside. In his back yard are raised planter boxes full of herbs, and nearby is a small grove of fruit trees. On the fence hangs a sign that reads, “Organic farm, no spraying.” On his residential property of a little more than half an acre, Craig and his wife Gail operate City Green Gardens, which provides enough food for both his family and many of Reno’s farm-to-table restaurants year-round.
“My wife and I have been gardening in Reno for well over 30 years,” Frezzette said. “We could feed ourselves and can it and preserve it and put it in the pantry and eat it all winter long. That’s kind of how we got into gardening.”
After buying his property in 1996, Frezzette began to grow his own food as a hobby. Along with a few other local farmers like Stephen and Marcia Litsinger in Stagecoach, Nevada—whom he credits with establishing Nevada’s first organic food program—Frezzette began to grow his crops according to the newly implemented USDA organic specifications. City Green Gardens became the first licensed organic farm in the city of Reno in 2012.
“There’s some really lengthy rules that we have to follow, set up by the national organic program,” Frezzette said. “So we have to jump through a lot of hoops to be certified.”
Those rules prohibit the use of certain ingredients, pesticides and fertilizers, but to Frezzette the practice has a much more wholesome definition.
“The meaning to me means ‘to put back,’” he said. “So, in other words, whatever you take from the earth, you’re going to go ahead and give back to the earth. The different nutrients that I put into my soil, it replenishes certain nutrients that a lot of farmers don’t put in. A lot of the trace minerals that the plants take out of the soil—your magnesium, your copper—those are all things that we ingest, and we need for our bodies. As the plants are removing those minerals, it’s up to us organic farmers to replace those minerals.”
Frezzette unexpectedly lost his job of over 25 years during the 2009 recession and began looking for alternative means of income. At the same time, Reno was also beginning to find a taste for locally sourced organic foods.
“In 2009, I started reading about the local food movement, and I thought, ‘Wow, this sparked an area that I’m interested in.’ I was at the library every day researching on farming and how to farm and what type of models you could come up with, different models of farms.”
After a few years of experimentation, Frezzette built a relationship with a few local chefs and restaurants in the city, like 4th Street Bistro, Old Granite Street Eatery, and La Strada at the Eldorado.
Many of the chefs and restaurant staff will come out to tour City Green Gardens when new crops come in to adjust their menus for the seasonal greens, fruit or vegetables on the planting rotation.
“We sort of tailored our products to be appreciated by higher-end restaurants because there was nobody locally growing certain products like Belgian endive or frisee lettuce—different things that chefs like to use in a restaurant but that they can’t get locally,” Frezzette said.
Upon request, Frezzette will harvest, wash, pack and deliver his produce to the restaurants on the same day the order is placed.
“That was my big thing, harvest and deliver on the same day—no storage whatsoever,” Frezzette said. “To this day, that’s the way we operate.”
While Frezzette sells almost exclusively to restaurants now, he got his start selling weekly boxes of vegetables to interested individuals through a program referred to as CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)—a program many smaller farms still adhere to in order to get established in Reno’s local food chain.
“You’re paying money up front for a box of vegetables for a set period of time,” said Brenton Aikin, owner of Ital Farms headquartered on Cordone Avenue. “It’s cool on the receiving side because you’re guaranteed product every week, and it’s always different.”
Aikin established Ital Farms last year and said CSAs are a boon for him financially, as it allows for money to buy seed and infrastructure up front, before the growing season begins. It’s also cost effective for buyers, he said, as his 16-week CSA last year cost around $20 per box with enough food to feed at least two people.
“It seems like a lot of people that, when they get really into local food, that’s the first thing that they go for, is a CSA. Shopping at a farmers’ market is awesome too, but I think for people that have really busy lives, a CSA is kind of convenient. They get that farmers’ market experience, but they just pick up a box, and that’s it.”
Farm-to-table has been a trendy term in Reno’s food scene for the last decade, and it’s no secret that the added production steps are a selling point for local restaurants that sometimes warrant a hefty markup in price. But as to why individuals would place a personal importance on locally sourced food, Aikin can think of plenty of reasons.
“I think we have a pretty bad health problem in this country,” he said. “There’s a lot more research coming out on how what you eat affects your body, and even more specifically than that, how localized your diet is. And then you bring in the sustainability aspect of eating local, your carbon footprint, that all comes into it. I think there’s just a big push to try to get back to how we used to eat food—and the value that farmers bring.”
Gino Scala owns Great Full Gardens, which, before opening as a health-conscious restaurant in 2013, operated as a licensed farm. He buys directly from City Green Gardens and the Great Basin Community Food Co-op’s Distributors of Regional and Organic Produce & Products (DROPP) program, which acts as a wholesaler that purchases from Ital Farms, among other local growers. But Scala has a personal mandate to buy from any local farmer he can accommodate.
“In 2008, I went down with diverticulitis and esophageal ulcers,” Scala said. “It was a pretty big deal. I was in the hospital on IVs, and toward the end of the week the doctors came, and they told my wife that I was going to need to be on certain medications for the rest of my life.”
Rather than resign himself to a regiment of pills and checkups, Gino and his wife, Juli, researched a pesticide-free, plant-based, organic diet to combat his digestive troubles. After six months, he said, he returned from a checkup with a clean bill of health.
“The ulcers were completely healed,” Scala said. “There was some scar tissue there, but that was better than open sores, and the diverticulitis was not apparent. It was gone.”
Even with his experience in mind, Scala still hesitates to prescribe organic food as a cure-all.
“I never talk about the food as medicine, I talk about the food as healing food—food that inspires the body to do its deeds,” Scala said. “I’m a big, big believer, because I have proof.”
But Frezette, Aikin and Scala all agree that the real draw for locally sourced, hand-picked food is simple—the taste.
“Eat a cucumber from Mexico, and then eat a cucumber from City Green Farms, and you’ll feel a difference, 100 percent,” Scala said.