Cultivating Green Palates
May 08, 2019 09:55PM
● By Debbie Hall
Las Vegas translated means “the meadows,” a name given by the Spanish explorers who stopped in this spot for water in the 1800s. The city is located in a valley with artesian wells, which sustains the population today.
That said, Nevada is not a desert wasteland. It can sustain agriculture in many areas. There are farms today providing food and seasonings to the surrounding valley and its many restaurants.
Store-bought produce just doesn’t compare to vegetables picked fresh from the farm. The flavors that burst into your mouth can only be captured when selected freshly off the land. While freezing, canning, and preserving have their place, something about farm-to-table meals create that connection to the earth.
One of the best places to find the goodness growing from the land is a local farmers’ market. Carrie Hogan founded and has been managing Fresh52 Farmers’ & Artisan Market since 2010 to bring healthy and organic produce to the valley.
Hogan demonstrates her passion and business savvy for farmers’ markets, working closely with a forager who goes to local and regional farms and brings back the best seasonal produce while creating relationships with local vendors. She developed this passion after viewing the film Food, Inc. over nine years ago. The credits started rolling with the message, “Do Something.”
“This had a tremendous effect on me. This was something I could do in my community to make a huge impact,” Hogan explains. “We needed somebody to bring transparency in the [farmers’] markets.”
She is working on opening additional locations, and her vision is to open indoor farmers’ markets.
“I encourage everyone to support the local, small farmers and businesses driving our local economy. I am thrilled to be a platform for some vendors until they get that brick and mortar store, if that’s their goal.” Hogan says.
One of the vendors and small farmers at Fresh52 with a thriving business is Herbs by Diane. In 1968, Diane E. Greene moved with her family from California to land in Boulder City, Nevada.. The property first owned by her parents is now Greene’s two-acre garden. Its bounty supplies 40 different culinary herbs, edible flowers, microgreens, and seasonal vegetables to home cooks and 12 local restaurants alike including Eataly. Its product line includes dried herbs, herbal blends, and dip mixes. Compost is made on site to feed the gardens instead of using pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Insects are physically removed, and weeds are hand-pulled. According to Greene, maintaining a natural balance in the gardens produces healthier plants and reduces pest populations.
She comes from a long line of gardeners. Greene has embraced garden-to-table dining since 1974, when she began growing organic produce to help supplement the store-bought ingredients in meals cooked for her family. Greene’s father initially chose Boulder City as a great place to open a donut shop so his daughter could become a pastry chef and work on the Strip. She has been operating her own businesses since age 18, then got married and raised her family. After moving out of state, pursuing various careers, and moving back to Boulder City, she changed directions in life in 2007 and created Herbs by Diane to sell produce and herbs at local farmers’ markets. In 2013, after her father passed, Greene took over the two-acre property with the house that her Dad built to grow her business including gardens, a greenhouse, chicken coop, and dehydrating building. She loves that she can provide nutritious food to the community.
Along with supporting small farms and businesses, community-based restaurants such as VegeNation are leading a food revolution. According to Kelly Bennett, co-owner and creative director, Vegas’ local food scene is growing daily, and and she is thrilled that VegeNation is a part of supporting the community.
“While VegeNation’s main focus is providing fresh, plant-based comfort food, we also are invested in our community and always look first to local businesses to source from for our restaurants,” she says.
Co-owner and executive chef Donald Lemperle seeks to cook with locally grown vegetables by adopting school and community gardens and freight farms. Locally sourced beer, spirits, coffee, tea, artisanal cheeses, and spices are also featured on the menu. Everything, including meat, cheese, and ice cream, is made with 100 percent plant-based ingredients.
“We really want to show how the culinary scene is developing. We are super passionate about telling the backstory of these incredible brands, really talking about the entrepreneurial spirit that is building in Nevada. We actually have the capacity to grow quite a bit of food in Nevada,” Bennett says.
The chef uses the locally sourced ingredients combined with unique flavoring as VegeNation spreads the message of sustainability and support in Southern Nevada. With dishes like The Mac Daddy Burger, Loaded Sweet Potato Tots, and the Mac N Cheese Pizza, VegeNation makes plant-based eating fun and easy.
Co-owners and chefs Antonio Nunez and Scott Comings, along with co-owner Steve Grodkiewicz, offer a more extensive menu at The Stove, and work with smaller farmers and ranchers. Their philosophy is that knowing where and how products used in meal preparation are grown and raised makes a difference in everyone’s lives. This includes milk, beef, cheese, fish, mushrooms, and other products. “We want to support every local farmer as much as we can,” explains Nunez.
What makes The Stove unique is that it grows some of its own produce, including herbs, microgreens, and chilies, on its in-house green wall, which is currently being reprocessed and rebuilt in the dining room. The plants are growing in pots before being transferred to the wall, and the chefs anticipate harvesting from it in about a month.
“It is quite a sight to walk in and see this wall filled with fresh, green plants ready to feed us,” says Nunez.
Summer dishes combine seasonal favorites. The watermelon salad combines watermelon, mint, arugula, and candied ginger with locally sourced honey and sherry vinaigrette. The heirloom tomato dish blends roasted tomato with the heirloom tomato, watermelon radishes, and apricots topped with fresh microgreens on a sherry gastrique with a side of country bread and burrata cheese.
The Stove sources potatoes, tomatoes, root produce and other food from Sandy Valley, about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. The chefs also get items for weekly specials at Gilcrest Orchard in the northwest valley as another resource nuts, leafy greens, spinach, and vegetables.
With all of this tasty food, another reason to call Nevada green is the abundance of locally sourced food that provides nourishment, health, employment, and sustainability.