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Desert Companion

Profile: Marilyn Yamamoto says grow your own

‘We’ll have asparagus out the wing-wang.’

Arugula, oregano, tarragon “Really, everything grows in the desert, as long as you start with good soil and have enough water,” says Marilyn Yamamoto, founder of Organic Edibles. If the whopping harvest produced by her first planting is any indication of the bounty to come, then the nonprofit organization should have no problem fulfilling its mission of feeding the hungry and teaching people to grow their own. Their own beans, garlic, onions and tomatoes, that is. “You do have to amend the soil here. Our natural soil is too dry and doesn’t have enough nutrients,” Yamamoto concedes, surveying the raised beds filled with homemade compost and soil she bought from Gro-Well Organics. She should know. She earned her green thumb the hard way: through wheelbarrow-loads of trial and error during 20-plus years of gardening (16 in Las Vegas) capped by the completed Master Gardeners Program at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Yamamoto got into gardening after selling her exhibit design business and retiring. Suddenly, friends and neighbors found themselves on the receiving end of fruit-and-veggie bumper crops. Before she knew it, Yamamoto was helping others cultivate cucumbers, eggplant, squash, tomatillos … After a Meetup group she launched began to overflow, she founded Organic Edibles (www.organicedibles.org), a nonprofit group that teaches people to sustain themselves, in part, through gardening. To cover overhead, Organic Edibles offers $45 annual memberships. Members get regular updates on what’s growing and the pick of the harvest at weekly markets and private appointments. Everything else goes to charity. Just one thing missing: an actual garden. Then, a year ago, Yamamoto bought the 1.5-acre Cowboy Trail Farm in Northwest Las Vegas. Last fall, she and Organic Edibles volunteers put the first seeds in the ground. By spring, they were harvesting broccoli, cabbage, soybeans … “Year-after-next, we’ll have asparagus out the wing-wang,” Yamamoto says. Organic Edibles also hopes to generate revenue by selling farm plots and seedlings. Another bumper crop: Science! The nonprofit even received a study grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compare crops grown in greenhouses with those grown outdoors. “I test a lot of different vegetables and herbs. They’re acclimating to the heat,” Yamamoto says, peeking into a greenhouse full of Asian greens, carrots and … are those blackberries? Indeed. Organic Edibles is also seeking USDA Organic certification, avoiding herbicides and pesticides in favor of natural methods like bug-repelling marigolds. It’s like she can grow anything here. “Keeping your soil and plants healthy is the key,” she says. Anything? Even mangoes? That’s the plan for the new tropical greenhouse. “They need a lot more attention here. It’s not difficult, just different.”

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