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The Tahoe Food Hub aims to make local food sustainable and accessible

The atmosphere inside the Tahoe Food Hub’s geodesic dome greenhouse in Truckee, Calif., is warm and humid. With the rows of green vegetables and the sun shining through the triangular windows, it’s hard to believe it’s the middle of winter, save for the snow piles leaning against the side of the structure.

“The coldest it gets in here is 32 degrees [Celsius],” says Susie Sutphin, co-founder of the Tahoe Food Hub, who manages the greenhouse. “These domes are on average about 15 to 25 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.”

The dome, privately owned, is one of several projects linked to the hub, which is in the process of getting non-profit status. Produce harvested on average every four weeks, but this fluctuates depending on the season. Growing in the winter has unique challenges, the biggest of which is keeping the soil warm. The dome has insulated walls and foundation, and the rows are covered regularly to keep the humidity. Fifty percent of the food, including veggies like kale, arugula, spinach and edible flowers, is donated to the community, and the rest is kept by the owners.

Sutphin, who previously worked for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif., co-founded the Tahoe Food Hub with Bill Kelly, whose family owns the greenhouse, and fellow sustainability advocate Eve McEneany after being inspired by food documentaries screened at Wild & Scenic.

“There’s all this talk about improving local economies, but so much of that starts with food,” Sutphin says.

The dome, made by a company called Growing Spaces, was a hit with local schools and organizations, so Sutphin says a project called the Dome Raising Project is on the agenda for 2013. The Tahoe Food Hub will collaborate with schools and other interested groups, such as nursing homes, to build the domes and teach participants about growing food in mountainous regions. Sutphin says that she didn’t come from a farming or gardening background, but has long been an advocate for organic foods.

“I’ve had to learn a lot about the whole process, like crop rotation, how close to plant vegetables,” she says.

But Sutphin’s priority is making the hub an aggregator for regional farmers to better facilitate the flow of organic produce into local restaurants. Doing so will also help farmers reach difficult markets, such as hospitals.

“Farmers don’t always have time to connect with restaurants,” she says. “We can also ensure that food is better harvested so that we don’t take it all from one farm and then run out.”

Food security is also a necessity, Sutphin says, which is why much of the greenhouse produce is donated. She doesn’t want the hub to be a grocery store because Truckee already has an organic food store, New Moon Natural Foods, but plans to coordinate a community kitchen and offer surplus produce to the community.

Sutphin hopes the Tahoe Food Hub will help connect the Tahoe, Truckee and Reno food communities.

“The more hubs we have, the better,” she says. “These projects are intended to be regional. We can make sure that food is distributed within 15 miles, rather than be transported from hundreds of miles away.”