meet the farmer
A BOUNTIFUL LIFE
Elizabeth Reifers is the nurturing farmer behind Spanish Spring Greens.
WRITTEN BY SUE EDMONDSON
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO
There's nothing small about the farming operation at Spanish Spring Greens in Reno's Spanish Springs area except its chief plant inspector, Lily. And that's because Lily, daughter of owner Elizabeth Reifers, is only 7.
Elizabeth Reifers is Spanish Spring Greens — the farmer, marketer, and distributor. She's the person who envisioned a farm and made it a reality.
Farming in Suburbia
From the front, Spanish Spring Greens is any suburban Nevada home, with a lawn, evergreen trees, and flowers, its neighborhood bordered by sagebrush and sand. The first hint of a farm is in the backyard, where berry vines and apple trees are setting fruit, and chickens have the run of the place.
The main farmland lies beyond the fenced backyard. There, from spring through fall, two-plus acres of naturally raised edibles grow in rows, efficiently irrigated by a drip system and punctuated by landscape cloth for weed and pest control.
Cold-hearty lettuces, spinach, and greens start the season. As the days warm, in go dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, beets, squash, onions, herbs, and the unusual plants that distinguish Spanish Spring Greens from the mainstream, such as French white strawberries, watermelon radishes, or Padron peppers. The rows create an unexpected verdant oasis, its plants laden with a rainbow of veggies, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert.
Although Reifers makes farming sound easy, it's clear that each step is studied. As a result, plants thrive in once-sandy soil, now rich from composting and cover crops. A spritz of water eliminates the few bugs spotted by Lily.
When Lily was 14 months old, her father passed away.
"Being there for Lily was my priority," says Reifers, who was just 25 at the time. "I had to find a way to be nurturer and provider. Farming seemed like the best of all worlds — growing food, helping my child grow, and providing us with a living."
There was one drawback. She'd never even grown a vegetable. She smiles when she says, "I think I was temporarily insane."
Undeterred by practicalities, she learned to farm from the ground up at Canvas Ranch in Petaluma, Calif., which had animals and a 100-member community-supported agriculture program that delivered produce to customers on a weekly basis.
"I used their model as a basis for my business," she says.
By her second year of farming in California, she had started a CSA and cultivated restaurant clients. It wasn't long before her delicious, organically grown produce captured a loyal following. Still, something was lacking.
"I wanted to move home to Nevada," she says. "I missed my family."
Back to Roots
The transition from California to Nevada involved a year of commuting to grow relationships with CSA customers and restaurants such as Beaujolais Bistro in Reno and PlumpJack Café in Squaw Valley. Finally, all she needed was a place to farm. That proved the greater challenge.
"I was getting desperate," she says. "When I bought my home, the yards were buried in two feet of snow. Luckily, when the snow melted, I found them beautifully landscaped."
Spanish Spring Greens was born ... almost. While the yards were landscaped, the rest of the property was raw desert. "My dad and I burned sagebrush for days!" she says.
Seed buying starts in winter for spring planting; summer means growing, harvesting, and selling crops. Reifers coaxes the plants through fall, then sows a cover crop. She's often in the fields before sunrise, a headlamp lighting the way. It's tough work, but she wouldn't trade it for another vocation.
"The business has exceeded every expectation," she says. "But the best part is that I get to be a stay-at-home, working mom with a lifestyle that Lily loves as much as I do. This is our adventure."
Freelance writer Sue Edmondson writes for various publications in Nevada and California and is an avid vegetable grower. She now has planting cover crops on her gardening "must do" list.
Spanish Spring Greens
Sylvetta Arugula and Mizuna Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, White Beets, and Cilantro Vinaigrette
(courtesy of PlumpJack Café's Chef Ben Dufresne, who served this salad at a dinner featuring produce grown by Spanish Spring Greens. For each salad, vary amounts according to preferred serving size and ingredient proportions)
Sugar snap peas, uncooked and cut on the bias
Place beets in an ovenproof pan, cover with orange juice, and sprinkle with a few fennel seeds. Bake at 350 degrees F for 90 minutes or until tender. Cool and peel.
Arrange beets and snap peas over equal amounts of Sylvetta arugula and mizuna. Drizzle with cilantro vinaigrette.
(makes 4 cups)
1 bunch cilantro (stems removed)
1 shallot, minced
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup rice wine vinegar
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Add all the ingredients except oil to a blender and pulse until smooth. Slowly add the oil in a small stream to the blender as you blend on medium to high setting, so that the vinaigrette is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.