Camp selling site-grown plants to the public

With harsh, cold winters and hot, dry summers, China Spring Youth Camp and Aurora Pines Girls Facility in the Pine Nut Mountains is not exactly the best growing climate for vegetables and flowers.

Yet the plants raised in the youth development camp's new 1,100-square-foot, year-round greenhouse prove that with the right materials and the right community partners the high mountain desert can bloom.

"We had no idea how much it would take off or how much could grow in here," China Spring Case Manager Jeff Gorton said. "People will be shocked to see what's been done up here. I have the feeling that if people find out about it, they will already be looking forward to next year."

On Tuesday, Gorton and Aurora Pines Facility Manager Wendy Garrison showed off the polycarbonate greenhouse that was built last summer by camp residents and staff members with the help of a nearly $72,000 grant from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

With snow still on the ground from Monday's storm, Garrison and Gorton stood in the warm humid air of the new greenhouse. An electronic monitor on the wall, wired to Garrison's office computer, read a pleasant 77 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity level between 60-80 percent.

With the warm humid air came the strong, overwhelming aroma of hundreds of growing plants. Tomatoes, cantaloupes, peppers. Gorgeous house plants prolific in their well-watered pots. And, hanging above everything, approximately 60 flower baskets overflowing with blossoms and color.

Garrison said 38 of the large flower baskets will be going to the Town of Gardnerville to be hung on Highway 395 for the summer season. The remaining smaller ones will be sold to the public.

"Wherever we go, we tell people what we have and see if they're interested," she said.

Garrison said word-of-mouth is helping spread rumors of China Spring's amazing greenhouse products. In fact, about 300 house plants were sold at a recent sale at Plant-It Nursery in Gardnerville.

"In order to clear out, anything that doesn't sell we'll put in the garden," she said.

In some cases, if the produce is ready to eat, it will go to the camp kitchen.

"We used lettuce grown in here in the kitchen, and it saved about $250," Garrison said.

In tight budget times, she said, the camp is trying to find ways to support programs not funded by the state. Plant sales have already raised about $3,000, which goes straight back into the greenhouse and other educational programs. Besides plants, the camp raises chukar and goats.

"The goal is to have each program support itself," said Gorton.

Above all, the greenhouse benefits the camp's at-risk youth. It's amazing, Gorton said, to watch a resident tend a seed as it sprouts into a mature plant, and then later eat the produce of that plant.

"We like to expose them to this stuff," he said.

"Growing lettuce, they were so ecstatic," Garrison added. "They kept saying how it tastes so much better."

The public will have a chance to both taste and see China Spring's increasingly famous plants this Sunday, 9 a.m., at the pavilion in Lampe Park. They'll be selling tomato plants, cantaloupe, Easter egg plants, corn, peppers and some of the smaller flower baskets, among others.

Garrison and Gorton said it's been a community effort to get the program where it is. Plant-It Nursery has assisted with the flowers. The Genoa Tree Farm, Carson Valley Garden and Ranch and the Greenhouse Garden Center in Carson City have all donated pots.

Garrison said that when China Spring runs out of plants to sell, they'll refer people to the greenhouse at Douglas High, which is run by the school's agriculture students.

"We're trying to get more involved and not only make money but give back to everyone supporting us," Garrison said.

"We also want to hear from the community if there is something they want us to grow," Gorton added.

Staff at China Spring started their own contest to see who among them can grow the biggest tomatoes.

When asked what the reward is, Garrison smiled and said, "Bragging rights."

To make donations to the program or for more information, call 265-5350. Checks can also be mailed to China Spring/Aurora Pines, P.O. Box 218, Minden, NV, 89423.


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