Can food hubs make small farms economically feasible?

A new effort near Tahoe, California, brings farmers and food buyers together to buck the system.

 

Is it possible to grow food in the snow? Susie Sutphin thinks so, and she's determined to teach other mountain dwellers how it's done. Sutphin is the founder of the nonprofit Tahoe Food Hub, and has spent the last four years growing a thriving regional food system in a part of California no one associates with farming. Her approach is two-pronged: First, she set up a network of farmers throughout the Sierra foothills and northern Nevada, whose produce (and eggs, and herbs, and, in some cases, juice) she distributes to restaurants, schools, and hospitals in the area. As a nonprofit, the food hub also donates food to local shelters and food banks, and offers free education and hands-on learning programs.

Second, she set up the Sierra Agroecology Center, which aims to teach Tahoe residents how to grow their own food. The center includes a large geodesic greenhouse called the Sierra Growing Dome, where Sutphin and her team grow all sorts of things, all year round. The Growing Dome, designed by Growing Spaces, in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, has been specially engineered to withstand large snow loads and to regulate indoor temperature with no electricity. The Sierra Agroecology Center also features assorted cold frames: garden boxes with toppers that make them resistant to cold and thus extend Tahoe's tiny, 3-month growing season to a solid 9 months.

The Sierra Agroecology Center, which aims to teach Tahoe, California, residents how to grow their own food. The center includes a large geodesic greenhouse called the Sierra Growing Dome.

Susie Sutphin is the founder of the nonprofit Tahoe Food Hub.

So far, only three Sierra Growing Domes have been erected in the area -- one at the Tahoe Food Hub site, in Truckee, California, and two at an elementary school in South Lake Tahoe, NV -- but Sutphin has high hopes that others will pop up soon. In the meantime, the Sierra Nevada farmers she's working with are happy that the Tahoe Food Hub spares them a few farmers' markets a week. 

Range podcast produces stories of the New American West and is co-hosted by reporters Amy Westervelt and Julia Ritchey. 

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