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Braving the Farming Elements

How Little Roots Farm conquers Truckee’s harsh growing climate
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Little Roots Farm, occupying a half-acre of land in Truckee’s Prosser neighborhood, is the only commercial farm within a 50-mile radius. Owned and operated by Todd Karol and Stacie Schultze, graduates of Sierra Nevada College, Little Roots focuses primarily on eight varieties of microgreens and also carries 10 to 20 other types of produce depending on the season. What makes these guys so interesting is that they are the only commercial farm to tackle the industry in a climate many would consider hostile.

After graduation, the couple knew they wanted to work in the food industry while continuing to build their community in Tahoe, but they weren’t too keen on the idea of working in restaurants, and thus Little Roots Farm was born.

Truckee/Tahoe is unique in that there isn’t a no-frost-period, Karol explained, and every month holds the possibility of temperatures dropping below 40 degrees. While a 40-degree night in June is obviously different from 14 feet of snow in January, the unpredictable mountain climate has taught Karol and Schultze how to farm in what Karol describes as one of the harshest agricultural climates in
North America.
“It is hard, but not impossible” Karol said. “We have to be smart about what we choose to grow and how we choose to grow it.” For this reason, they have chosen to focus on more hearty vegetables like lettuces
and microgreens.
“It is a niche market,” Karol said of farming microgreens. “But it allows us to live in Truckee and be part of this community.”

This mountain town farming is all made possible through the couple’s greenhouse, a geodesic dome purchased about a year ago from Black Rock Domes, a Reno-based company providing custom built structures for everything from greenhouses to Burning Man shelters.

At 14 feet tall, the Little Roots Farm dome was entirely buried by snow last winter, yet the couple was able to have a harvest in March — is thanks in part to the structure’s shape.

Geodesic means the shortest possible line between two points on a sphere or other curved surface, and because the dome was built using that principle snow sheds off its sides, allowing sunlight in. Also, ice walls formed around the dome, which provided insulation.

Unable to fully operate year-round, the couple is currently prepping for the cold winter. In other words, they start planting the seeds that will be harvested in the late winter and early spring. Karol explained that they plant in their greenhouse and once the weather starts getting cold they let the plants go dormant, meaning they don’t die, but are not growing — think Austin Powers being cryogenically frozen.

Depending on the weather, Little Roots sometimes is able to have a harvest in December. Throughout the winter they will take custom restaurant orders, pulling product from their greenhouse, depending on what is available.

Remember that this time of year you will most likely not be able to get produce from Little Roots Farm, but they're already looking ahead and preparing for their first harvest in the spring when produce will be available at all local farmers markets.

“We plan to do deliveries during Christmas to the restaurants,” Karol said. “But, you never know, because this is such a crazy climate.”

 
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November 9, 2017