1. Finding Permaculture Through Flower Power

Gaia flower and gift shop is in Las Vegas’ Arts District on East Charleston Boulevard, but it feels like it belongs in a place like Portland, Ore. The homey, funky space is more like an art gallery. An assortment of arts and crafts crowd against the walls, and the overall atmosphere is bright, airy and colorful.

The most foreign element of the 2-year-old shop, though, is that it specializes in eco-friendly flowers. In Vegas, that’s probably a head-scratching notion. After all, when you envision efforts to green the planet, you don’t usually think about flowers. They are, so to speak, already green. Right?

Not so fast. As Gaia owner Peter Frigeri explains, the flower industry, just like any other large industry, does more than its share of environmental damage. “The amount of pesticides used to grow a perfect rose is pretty shocking,” he says.

So Gaia works with floral watchdogs to make sure its flowers come from environmentally friendly fields and that workers who are cultivating those flowers are paid a fair wage. It’s small steps like these that contribute to the sustainability of planet Earth and, let’s be honest, make Las Vegas kind of a cool city.

More than an organic flower shop, Gaia specializes in inventive floral arrangements. “We use locally found arrangements,” Frigeri says. That might mean flowers placed in a petal-shaped vase made by a local artist, embellished with small river stones, branches, moss or dried petals. You’re not just getting a pretty flower; you’re getting a small work of art.

Frigeri also showcases a group of local artists whose work “reflects mindful contemplation.” Kelly Fowler uses recycled fabrics to make small, charming bags. Architect Kasey Baker makes small rings and such out of nuts and bolts. Leslie Rowland decorates old artillery shells with messages from and pictures of famous peaceniks such as Jesus, Buddha and Mother Theresa.

In addition, Frigeri, along with half a dozen others, started the Las Vegas Permaculture Guild about a year and a half ago. Conceived by a biologist in Australia in the 1970s, permaculture is a combination of sustainable practices in agriculture, architecture and land use. “It’s a very holistic way of looking at how your community interacts with its environment,” he says, “whether it’s a village or a house or a farm.”

Permaculture in Las Vegas could be as simple as residents tending to their gardens with minimal water usage and without pesticides—by, perhaps, having chickens near a garden to eat bugs instead. On a larger level, Frigeri hopes the city might create curb cutouts to capture irrigation water that would otherwise evaporate in the desert, and use more native materials in city streetscapes and parks. In the meantime, Frigeri has started implementing his permaculture philosophy at the Tonopah Community Garden in downtown Las Vegas.

In addition to pushing Las Vegas toward a more sustainable tomorrow, Frigeri is bringing people together. Gaia hosts auctions and fundraisers, and stages workshops on subjects as varied as Christmas ornaments and beekeeping. “We also try to build community,” he says. And as everyone in this desert town knows, that is the most precious resource we have.

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