Vertical farm, co-op market imagined for James Gay III Park in Las Vegas

August 30, 2022

James Gay Park Sign

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — Dominic Patterson has known this community his entire life, spending days of his childhood at the James Gay III Park in the Historic Westside.

"I look and there’s just memories here," he said. "Friends, family members, neighborhood all coming downplaying together.”

But now it looks a lot different. The park he once knew has been closed and locked since 2013, after issues with homeless encampments and increased criminal activity.

"It’s depressed," he said. "It’s sad.”

Las Vega City Councilman Cedric Crear says he knew it couldn't stay this way either.

“I thought, what can we do with this? It can’t stay empty for perpetuity," he said.

After talking with the community, he says a grand new vision for the park came to life inspired by an ongoing struggle: food insecurity.

"We’ve had a challenge getting a big box grocery store coming into our neighborhood," he said. "We’ve had challenges getting fresh fruits and vegetables into our community.”

Historic Westside residents also experience 25.5% food insecurity, the highest in the entire Las Vegas Valley. Per data from the city of Las Vegas, 45% of residents are also enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Program, and 98% of students are eligible for free lunch at public schools.

The city's solution? A vertical urban farm and co-op market.

Just recently, the city council just approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and the company Vertical Harvest to conduct a feasibility analysis for a 70,000-square-foot vertical farm at the park, along with the potential for an affordable housing auxiliary.

Vertical farming, a new kind of agriculture, involves growing crops in layers above each other in controlled environments. Crear says this way, food would be available to residents who currently have few options.

"We’re going to have lots of opportunities for people in our community to get fresh fruits and vegetables and to get healthier," he said.

While that project is expected to break ground in mid-2023, per the city, a smaller scale growing project at the park is expected sooner. Two shipping containers, funded by an MGM philanthropic contribution, will also be able to produce an expected 8 tons of produce. The containers are climate controlled, with an expected harvest within eight weeks of operation.

The ultimate goal, Crear says, is supporting a community-owned grocery.

"The goal is to grow our own fruits, vegetables, leafy greens as well and give that back to our community with a co-op grocery facility," he said. "If you live in the community, you’re going to be getting a discount. If you qualify for SNAP, you will get it for free. If you want to come into our community from outside the area, then you’re going to be paying full market rate."

He says this money will go back into the facility. Crear says the city already received a technical support grant from the Whitehouse, as the city is looking at a number of agriculture grants to help further fund the project too.

As for Dominic, he says he's for it.

"It’s food. People need food," he said. "People need jobs, and that’s creating more jobs.”