Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business

Farming Fish in the Nevada Desert

Silver State entrepreneurs are pioneering ways to cultivate food in the high desert of Nevada. Hungry Mother Organics is a farm that's raising produce and fish in a greenhouse that conserves both water and energy.

 

Most of what is eaten in Nevada comes from beyond its borders. The state brings in about $2 billion of food each year, largely to feed tourists in Las Vegas and the Lake Tahoe resorts. Farmers, chefs, and state officials want to grow more food locally, but the climate makes farming tough.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Mark O'Farrell (left) started Hungry Mother Organics in 2006. His son Jake, 23, works on the farm in Minden, Nev., about 40 miles south of Reno.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
At nearly a mile above sea level, Hungry Mother relies on a greenhouse to protect about 200,000 seedlings from the elements. "We can have 90 degrees during the day and down to 32 at night sometimes," O'Farrell says.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
The plants are heated from below with tubes of hot water. That keeps them at 75 degrees F with less energy than it would take to heat the air in the greenhouse, which could be 30 degrees cooler.
The plants are heated from below with tubes of hot water. That keeps them at 75 degrees F with less energy than it would take to heat the air in the greenhouse, which could be 30 degrees cooler.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
The O'Farrells started raising tilapia last year. The farm uses a system known as aquaponics to conserve water and nutrients. The waste the fish produce nourishes the plants, which naturally clean the water before it is pumped back into the tank.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
A bin full of worms is the first step in cleaning the fish water. The worms also eat food scraps.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
The plants are heated from below with tubes of hot water. That keeps them at 75 degrees F with less energy than it would take to heat the air in the greenhouse, which could be 30 degrees cooler.
The plants are heated from below with tubes of hot water. That keeps them at 75 degrees F with less energy than it would take to heat the air in the greenhouse, which could be 30 degrees cooler.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Water going back into the fish tank is tested for ammonia and nitrates. "We want it to be perfectly clean," O'Farrell says.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
The filtered water returns to the fish tank. Hungry Mother has about 900 tilapia, and recently got a permit to raise up to 20,000 fish.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Hungry Mother expects to have fish big enough to sell in June.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Chefs at fancy restaurants in Las Vegas and the Tahoe resorts are driving demand for fresh Nevada-grown produce.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
Hungry Mother sells fruits and vegetables and seedlings for home gardeners. Among the 80 varieties of pepper on hand is Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chili, known as the world's hottest.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
The farm has annual retail sales around $180,000. About 20 additional enterprises in Nevada are using hydroponics, greenhouses, or other indoor-farming techniques, according to Bonnie Lind of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. She says the industry is expected to grow by 30 percent annually over the next few years.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
O'Farrell's greenhouse is 1,800 square feet. Hungry Mother plans to expand to a 10,000-square-foot site next year.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business
O'Farrell wants to have as close to a closed-loop ecosystem as he can design. "Eventually, the only input we'll have—other than the natural gas and electricity—is fish food," he says.
Photographer: Anais + Dax/Bloomberg Business