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CSN students, charity cultivate unused lots for produce

Outside the culinary school at the College of Southern Nevada sit five dead gardens.

They have sat there for years, serving virtually no purpose.

“They looked like crap,” says Steve Soltz, a chef and culinary professor. “People were throwing cigarette butts, trash, whatever in there.”

Soon, though, those makeshift trash bins will be producing food for the school, and for the needy.

“Irrigation, irrigation, irrigation,” says Rhonda Killough, searching for the keys Friday morning that will let her access the water system. “Irrigation is the foundation of something like this.”

Something like this is a collaboration between the college’s culinary school and club, the honor society, and Project AngelFaces, a charity Killough founded and runs.

The goal is to grow enough vegetables and spices for the culinary students to use in the on-campus restaurant, with extras going to AngelFaces.

Killough says the group’s aim is to feed the hungry fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s that simple.

On Friday, she and several students showed up for the project’s second planting session. There’ll be sweet basil, garlic chives, carrots, peas, a whole variety.

The project came about when Soltz and Killough ran into one another at a green technology festival the college hosted last year.

Killough gave a presentation on sustainable gardening. Soltz was interested.

He used to have an operable garden on campus, but budget cuts killed it. And he knew the five small flower beds outside had also been killed when cuts meant no one could take care of them anymore.

It turned out, Killough loved the idea. She had been looking to do something like this. She says so many people in low-income areas don’t get any fruits and vegetables, she has made it her life’s mission to change that.

She always had that ambition, even making feeding the hungry her project in the Girl Scouts.

But in 2002, she and her husband were in a terrible motorcycle wreck, she says. She had been a dancer and a massage therapist.

But now, there she was, broken from head to toe. She thought about her life. She thought about the world’s problems, how there’s plenty to go around, but that so much of it is wasted.

She slowly got better. She was outside one day and realized a house in her neighborhood had nine fruit trees, but that the fruit went to waste.

She began to collect fresh fruit and give it away. She hooked up with charitable organizations and eventually founded her own.

She has had 19 surgeries now to repair her broken body and says she’s doing great. She earned her master’s of social work at UNLV while recovering and began AngelFaces.

Dustin Vanderlinden got involved. He’s a student at CSN studying music.

As he waters down the gardens Friday morning, he says he plans on moving to Oregon soon, maybe planting his own food, maybe being able to live entirely off the grid some day.

“To me,” he says, “it’s a no-brainer.”

The students will take care of the garden once it starts to grow. Ninety percent of the food should go to the college and 10 percent to the charity.

Maybe, eventually, there’ll be so much that more gardens can be started. A composting program will begin. The movement will spread.

That’s what Killough wants.

For now though, the students start planting the seeds.

“It sounds kooky,” Killough tells them as they put in one seed after another, “but it really makes a difference. Give it a little blessing, in whatever way you want.”

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal .com or 702-383-0307.

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