On any given Sunday morning, Don Fabbi trades his suburban northwest Valley home for a patch of desert in one of the most economically depressed areas of northeast Las Vegas. There, at the Doolittle Senior Center Community Garden, Fabbi can be found doing a little tilling, reflecting on a long life and enjoying the sounds of the neighborhood.
“About 7 o’clock, most of the people who work the night shift are finally going to bed,” he says. “There are several churches in the area. You can hear the gospel music.”
The 76-year-old master gardener helped found the site in the mid-1990s, and still makes himself available to area seniors who work one of the 40 raised-bed gardens at Doolittle. Over the past two decades, he has helped hundreds of Las Vegans either start gardening or get better at it.
The Doolittle garden has provided thousands of pounds of food to area residents. Now, thanks to Fabbi, at least five Las Vegas senior centers have gardens. For his efforts, he won the 2010 President’s Project award from the National Garden Clubs.
Fabbi graduated from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program in 1997. Since then, he has logged more than 14,000 volunteer hours, helping youths tend school gardens and adults grow their own food.
He leads at least three workshops for the general public each month and loves to talk up the many growing seasons in the Valley. Anything can grow here, he reminds us, with the right soil preparation and timing.
Fabbi moved to Las Vegas from central Nevada in 1946. He spent 40 as a safety director for Nevada Power. In his early days here, he says, people in the Valley grew their own fruit. Now—as economic, ecological and food-safety concerns spur a national gardening renaissance—he loves helping the small seeds of the movement take root in Las Vegas again.
“Teaching people to garden is a nonthreatening kind of thing to do,” he says. “You put a smile on their face when they pick that great pumpkin or watermelon.”