A two-acre lot off Silverada Boulevard in Reno contains nothing more than a big “For Sale” sign near the street. That sign acts as a ticking clock for the High Desert Montessori School, which has less than 50 days to purchase the property before the owner will sell it to a low-income housing developer.
“We reached out to the trust that owns the property and entered into an agreement with them, sending a letter of interest and an intent to purchase and were given a very short timeline to raise $600,000 in order to purchase that lot,” Marisa Cooper, a middle school science teacher at High Desert Montessori, said. The school committed to purchasing the property in March 2016.
“We had a 90-day agreement period. We have raised $400,000 toward the $600,000 so we have 50 more days to raise the remaining $200,000 in order to purchase the lot,” Cooper said.
High Desert Montessori is a free, public charter school in the northeast part of the city that provides education to at-risk students from infant-age to ninth grade. The school is home to more than 400 students and includes an elementary school located on Orovada Street and a middle school on Silverada Boulevard. Between the two school buildings sits the two acres that the school hopes to purchase and turn into an urban farm.
“We want to make a beautiful space that is constantly evolving and open to the community in which the school is located,” Tammie Stockton, principal of High Desert Montessori, said.
Stockton has been principal of the school for five years, and she said the inclusion of gardening and school farming was first introduced when the school was built in 2002.
“Our school is extremely science-based, and the gardening and outdoor world connection for students is very important because we want to have authentic experiences for our students,” Stockton said.
At present time, the school has hoop houses, raised beds, native gardens and a variety of other gardening aspects that allow students to learn and explore. The urban farm will expand existing efforts on a much larger scale. Plans for the property include row crop fields, raised bed gardens, demonstration gardens, a variety of meeting spaces and animal husbandry.
The EcoStudents are a group of middle school students in charge of planning for the urban farm. Some of those students brainstormed with the landscape architect to design the plot.
“Six or seven of our older students actually sat down and researched what kind of plants would work really well, what pieces would be really important to our farm, what areas and spaces and objects [would be need], how it [would need] to be designed,” Cooper said.
One main goal of the farm is to provide the students with skills that they can later apply to a profession.
“Having a place where the students are actually out working and then able to see the effects of the work that they’ve done is a really important way that we connect students to this community and that we give them skills that they can use later on in life,” Cooper said.
According to Cooper, one of those skillsets is food harvest and production.
“We will be using a lot of these spaces as production garden for our culinary program. So we will actually have students harvesting, preserving, chopping, dicing, freezing, saving, serving and putting all of this back into our lunch program so it will be a whole cycle,” Cooper said.
Middle school students at High Desert Montessori currently help to prepare meals for school lunch. The practice allows them to connect more closely with their food and to get a better understanding of portion control.
“I would have just [put] a handful of spaghetti, a lot of sauce and shipped it off. But you learn that there is a certain amount that you have to do in order to make it healthy for the individual,” Chelsea Herdt, a ninth grade student at High Desert Montessori, said.
Herdt is also part of the EcoStudents group, and her experience taught her important lessons about developing and promoting a project.
“I’ve learned a lot of life skills,” Herdt said. “How to public speak, [and] how to use a computer since I am the social media manager.” The EcoStudents created a Facebook, Twitter and a GoFundMe page to spread the word about the urban farm and the ongoing environmental efforts of the school.
Along with providing life skills, staff at the school believe the urban farm will have a positive impact on the local community and the city.
“We’re connecting students back to nature, we’re connecting students to the food that we eat, we’re connecting students to the community, and we’re connecting students to work,” Cooper said.
“It’s not only enhancing our school and the opportunities for our students, but it’s also enhancing the neighborhood in northeast Reno,” Stockton said.
Interested in donating to the project? Donations can be made directly to the High Desert Montessori School here. All donations are tax-deductible.