meet the farmer
Small organic farm serves big flavor to local restaurants.
WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO
Urban agriculture is in. Look online and you’ll find oodles of DIY garden articles and tips on saving space to better grow produce in quaint urban areas. But Craig Frezzette of City Green Gardens in Reno has been ahead of the trend. He has been tending his own soil, producing his own food, and working toward sustainability for more than two decades — right in his own backyard.
Twenty-two years ago, he purchased a 0.62-acre property (just off Plumb Lane in Reno) complete with several fruit trees. The parcel soon became home to a small garden just large enough for Frezzette’s family members to supplement their diets with homegrown produce.
The land, which was previously a horse pasture, was zoned for Washoe County, meaning the ordinances were more amicable to farming and livestock. Though the city slowly developed around him and the property eventually was annexed into Reno city limits, he continued to garden, expanding his production at a slow but steady pace under new regulations. After providing herbs, vegetables, and flavored vinegars to customers at the Sparks Farmers’ Market and a small CSA whose membership consisted of neighbors and friends, Frezzette turned his attention to elevating his production when he lost his job at the height of the recession in 2009.
What once was a little home garden that primarily churned out fresh vegetables for the family now is a certified organic, specialty-crop, market garden providing a dazzling array of produce to local restaurants.
The top-shelf varietals have become City Green Gardens’ niche. Because Frezzette has kept his total crop size small and production manageable, he’s able to provide high-end products. Each crop gets plenty of TLC from him, his garden manager, or one of the seasonal harvesters. The produce — which includes baby beets, microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, edible flowers, and more — is picked on a first-ordered, first-served basis just a couple of hours before restaurants receive it.
City Green Gardens was first certified organic by the Nevada Department of Agriculture in 2012. Soon it will be one of the first entities certified by the new organics program in Nevada, Basin and Range Organics. Frezzette has completed his application and is waiting for inspection, which should be in early spring. Because Basin and Range Organics is under the USDA’s National Organic Program, Frezzette still will be able to use the USDA Certified Organic label if he chooses. City Green Gardens currently is the only certified organic farm/garden within the city of Reno.
Growing organically means amending the soil, composting, and putting back the nutrients that you take out, he explains.
“Give back to the earth,” Frezzette says.
To do this, Frezzette rotates his crops and uses fine rock dust to replace minerals in the soil that have been depleted after growing food. Food quality and food safety are important to him, and growing organically is just one aspect of the integrity involved in Frezzette’s philosophy of producing food. Supporting other local businesses (by selling them quality, organic produce) is another layer of good food practice.
Old Granite Street Eatery in Reno is one local establishment that consistently incorporates Frezzette’s specialty crops into its menu. Another good food practice, he says, is selecting ingredients and crafting menus by season and by what’s available, so that each dish is as fresh and delicious as possible. Frezzette says this is why chef Brandan Bryan at Old Granite Street lets the seasonal produce City Green supplies each week inspire his creation of new dishes for the restaurant.
“Farm to fork is huge,” Frezzette says. “[Chef Brandan] gets this box [of produce from us] and his wheels just start turning.”
From arrival to end, Erin Meyering felt inspired during her hour-long visit with Craig Frezzette, owner of City Green Gardens. They walked around his property acknowledging how beautiful each vegetable was, despite his battle with a frosty winter. The quaint hoop houses on the property housed a plethora of vegetables and herbs.
To enjoy produce from City Green Gardens, venture to one of the Reno restaurants that carry Frezzette’s organic goods. That list includes 4th St. Bistro, Old Granite Street Eatery, Great Full Gardens, Beaujolais Bistro, LuLou’s, and The Bistro Roxy and La Strada at the Eldorado Resort Casino. Consumers also can purchase City Green Gardens’ lettuce and various herbs at Butcher Boy Meat Market in Reno. For details, visit City Green Gardens on Facebook.