Skip to main content

Tour of River School Farm in Reno, NV

Colorful chickens, roosters, and two curious goats make up the welcome party that greets visitors to River School Farm in Reno, Nevada. I had the pleasure of meeting these farm animals, as well as Farmer Tom, during a first Friday farm tour on February 1, 2019. It was my first behind-the-scenes introduction to Reno farming, and it left me feeling hopeful and inspired to get involved with the local food system and begin growing my own food here in the high desert.

The River School Farm is nestled between the Truckee River and a business park west of downtown. It was established in 1992 and features an event space with a firepit and stage, outdoor kitchen, a nursery in spring/summer, greenhouses, spaces for workshops and classes, compost piles, chicken coops, and more. It's a community gathering place, home to a cohousing project, and an educational space. Learn more about all of the offerings and services River School Farm provides on their website here.

During the tour, Farmer Tom introduced us to the chickens, goats, ducks, compost worms, and plants that live onsite. He shared stories about chickens that have laid eggs in hidden places around the farm without anyone knowing until the baby chicks hatched and starting peeping. Every full moon, he said, River School Farm hosts an event featuring drumming and dancing around the fire pit in their event center. "We're the Reno pagans," he said with a grin.

Throughout the tour, Farmer Tom engaged all of our senses and brought the farm to life. He invited us to smell the compost. We all tasted tatsoi and violas from the cold frame garden on the south side of one of the buildings.

We felt the warmth coming off of the heat mats in the greenhouse. The Truckee River flowed with white noise nearby. As we approached a large circular structure at the entrance to a sloped path, he encouraged us to make a wish as we walked through the "moon gate." "It just might come true," he said. "But you can't tell anyone what you wished for."

I learned that the Truckee River is one of the few rivers in the world that doesn't flow into the ocean. Instead, it flows into Pyramid Lake. The more I learn about this place we now call home, I gain deeper appreciation for its beauty, the stories that shape it, and the natural history that defines its unique niche on earth.

As someone new to the region, the tips and tricks that Farmer Tom shared about how to grow food in Reno was really helpful. Some of my favorite strategies included:
  • Of all the fruits to grow in Reno, grapes are the best because they flower late enough that they won't get killed with frost. Grapes also have enough sugars in their fruit that if they aren't harvested before the first frost, the sugars will keep them from freezing.
  • You can grow many types of apples here. River School Farm grows enough apples each year to produce nearly 60 gallons of juice and enough storage apples to last until spring. Tom recommended the varieties 'Yellow Delicious' and 'Newtown Pippin.'
  • Remay cloth and hoop houses help protect cold season vegetables in the winter. When it's less than 29°F, Farmer Tom uses remay cloth inside the hoop houses. Shade cloth over the top of hoop houses and opening up the hoop houses on all sunny days (even in winter) help prevent overheating of crops. Ideally, fans also help cool down hoop houses in summer.
  • In winter, you can germinate seeds in a simple greenhouse in a sunny south-facing spot with the help of heat mats.
In addition to visiting the River School Farm property, we also toured the Patagonia Farm/Garden a few blocks away. This small strip of earth is nestled against the Patagonia distribution warehouse, and all of the food grown there is sold to the Patagonia cafeteria. River School Farm doesn't have to pay for the land or water, and they have a guaranteed market just across the parking lot.

I highly recommend joining Farmer Tom for a first Friday farm tour! It's only $10 per adult, and it is well worth the fun and learning that you will gain by spending an hour at the Farm.

I plan on returning to the farm soon for a volunteer work day, and I look forward to more opportunities for learning and meeting new folks through this wonderful community resource. I also can't wait to see this farm in the spring and summer months as the vegetation becomes more vibrant! This photo album shows the farm throughout the seasons.

I'm grateful that folks like Farmer Tom are open to sharing about the work they do. It is inspiring and gives me hope that I will be growing my own garden again very soon.

Yes, We Moved to Reno!
Green Guy and I moved to Reno mid-December from the Bay Area, and it has been fun to learn more about Reno as we settle in. Before we visited for the first time last year, the only thing we associated with Reno was the casinos. After visiting and now living here, we're discovering how much more there is to this place than we could have imagined.

There are rivers and lakes and magnificent mountain views. The university has extension courses, public lectures, and events that we look forward to attending. People are growing food and community here in many ways. Our adventure here has just begun!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post documenting Green Gal's Garden last year. I've finished compiling harvest records for everything harvested and sold, and I look forward to sharing those details with you all soon. Happy 2019, everyone!