Grow It Here

If you didn’t know there are working farms in Southern Nevada, don’t feel bad. It seems a little counterintuitive; after all, it’s a desert out there.

But there are, in fact, about 20 local producers of everything from tomatoes to corn, poultry to pigs. For the most part they’re small operations, too small to have any kind of marketing budget. Unless you frequent farmers markets, you’d never run across them.

Kevin Raiford saw that as an opportunity. Raiford is a business professor at the College of Southern Nevada. He frequently collaborates with the Nevada Small Business Development Center in Reno, advising budding entrepreneurs on how to get into business. Center officials wondered why marketing workshops for local growers were always in Northern Nevada, so they called Raiford. He wondered the same thing, given the potential demand for locally produced food in Southern Nevada.

Raiford quickly modified the syllabus for his Marketing 201 class, and now has his 80 or so students working on the real-world scenario of matching Southern Nevada growers with Southern Nevada eaters. They’re doing market surveys, crunching data, designing websites, and setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts. “The farmers can grow food while my students can be their social networking gurus,” he says.

That’s the preliminary work students need to perform to get up to speed, he says. “I love my students,” he says, “but you have to understand they are in transition. This is CSN, it’s not the Stanford graduate school of business.”

In February, the farmers will meet marketers, the gospel of locally produced food will spread and a locavore culture will bloom. That’s the dream, anyway. It’s possible, right here in the desert, says Raiford. “When they tear down the Fontainebleau, there could be a farm there right on the Strip. Who knows? You heard it here first.”