Gardening has seen a resurgence in the United States since the Covid-pandemic brought about a recognition of the importance of agriculture. As well as the recent validity of food-related conditions such as celiac and gluten intolerance among others. Then there are the theories of the quality of grocery store products and foods not being up to par and containing harmful chemicals and preservatives. People and organizations are arguing through science and studies that preservatives within foods are causing more harm than good. They also have started finding out the harmful effects of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These PFAS have been used in packaging agents and pesticides.
After moving to Moapa, Nevada, a local Southern Nevada family started their own farm business and knew the recent findings of harmful packaging agents, pesticides, and preservatives in foods. They wanted to be healthier and happier. So their journey in agriculture brought about Ika Greens, developing an atmosphere of a “family” business.
Everyone helps out at the farm. Caelyn, 10, and Maxwell, 9, feed the goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and dogs before school every morning. Grayson, 6, likes to help build things and carries his tool bag around with him, so he’s ready at a moment’s notice to use his hammer or screwdriver on various projects. They all enjoy seeding, transplanting, and harvesting vegetables. Each has its garden bed growing things like kale, broccoli, lavender, and rosemary that have survived and thrived in the recent frosty nights.
“We are so fortunate that they all want to help,” says Kirsten.
“Sure, there are things they don’t want to do, and the repetition of cleaning up after the animals leads to lots of arguments on ‘whose turn it is, but overall, they enjoy being out here and looking after the animals and land as much as we do. They are just as passionate about all the projects we are working towards and love sharing their enthusiasm with others, including friends and teachers. My daughter helps me at the Second Saturday Markets and thrives off talking to people and sharing her and her brothers’ favorite ways of enjoying the produce we grow.”
Ika (pronounced EE-ka) Greens, is the name of their farm, a place where they are working toward growing most of their produce in a soil-less environment using aquaponics. It is a re-circulating system that creates a symbiotic ecosystem between fish and plants, mainly green leafy vegetables. The system can produce four times as many plants faster, using up to 90% less water than growing with traditional soil methods.
“Ika means fish in many languages around the Pacific Ocean. We chose the name Ika Greens to represent our family’s connection to New Zealand and celebrate the fish giving life to our plants, which in turn, cleans the water for the fish in our aquaponics closed-loop system.”
They have been dreaming of this lifestyle and brainstorming their farming business since they met 15 years ago. They had lived in many places over the years, spending time in Alex’s home in New Zealand and Kirsten’s home in Colorado before work brought their family to Las Vegas and eventually Moapa.
“Moapa just kind of happened for us, and we are so happy that it did. We love it here. We love the views and the people, and the community. People have helped us feel so welcomed, and we are excited to plant our roots here.”
In the past year, the Popes have built an aquaponics system in their garage, which has served as more of a demonstration system up until this point to show people what can grow in such a small space with only a tiny amount of water. They have built a greenhouse that has recently been retrofitted with a hydroponic growing system and houses a couple of rows of traditional soil crops. In contrast, the other methods are being built and dialed in.
“Alex is the mastermind behind these growing systems. In New Zealand, he worked in kiwi fruit and avocado orchards, and he has an extensive background in building piping systems. All his previous work experience shines, and it’s cool to watch him put it all together into something that can not only grow a lot of produce in a small space but also uses a fraction of the water necessary in traditional soil crops, which we all know is so important, especially in the desert.”
Kirsten grows microgreens in a spare bedroom of the house where she can control the temperature, humidity, and lights to give the plants just what they need. Microgreens are plants that are harvested just after sprouting and before they become baby plants. They are packed with nutrients and flavor.
“We eat them on everything. I put them on my toast in the morning, in smoothies, in sandwiches at lunchtime, and mixed into salads or piled on top of stir-fries, kinds of pasta, or anything else we are eating for dinner. The kids have eaten them in peanut butter sandwiches, and even on crackers spread with cream cheese and their favorite locally-made jelly for an after-school snack.”
Bring your reusable bag and load up on greens for the week at the farm. They will have their regular selection of microgreens and limited quantities of kale, swiss chard, spinach, and Asian greens, including bok choy and tatsoi, which are lovely in soups and stir-fries.
Ika Greens is looking into licensing and opportunities to sell in Mesquite. The times and locations will be announced after all the proper paperwork and permits. For more information about Ika Greens, check out their Instagram: #ikagreens or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Can call or text to place orders and pick them up at the farm at (725) 270-3102.
Their fresh product will be at the Clark County Fair and Rodeo at the Country Store for purchase from Wednesday to Sunday. They will have pea shoots, broccoli, and radish microgreens available.