Twenty Under 40 Q-and-A: Amber Sallaberry of Great Basin Community Food Co-op
Who are you?
Name: Amber Sallaberry
Profession/Title: Great Basin Community Food Co-op co-founder and general manager
How long in Reno/Northern Nevada: 38 years
RENO, Nev. — In November, the Reno-Tahoe Young Professionals Network announced the winners of its annual Twenty Under 40 Awards.
We at the NNBW feel it’s important for people of all ages, background and professions to have a voice about the current state of business in Northern Nevada.
With the region’s economic future in mind, NNBW Reporter Kaleb M. Roedel is conducting a Q-and-A with each of the 2019 winners; interviews will be published throughout the year. Read this week’s Q-and-A below.
Q: What do you see as the biggest economic development opportunities for Northern Nevada in 2020 and beyond?
Amber Sallaberry: The food politics nerd in me always wants to say regional food system development because who doesn’t eat, you know? It’s a tricky one because as we see more and more real estate acquisitions and rezoning happen in favor of commercial enterprise, that detracts a little bit from our ability to have land that can be used for urban farming initiatives. But I do think it’s incredibly important and I think it’s a huge investment. If you look at just stats from other thriving urban communities that are able to retain land for the use of agriculture, the property values go up all around them, and food security goes through the roof. You have more neighborhood rich and friendly activities like farmer’s markets and eateries and food trucks and things that really bring people together that can thrive off of having good agriculture available.
Q: Why is it important for younger professionals to have a seat at the table when it comes to the business community in Northern Nevada?
Amber Sallaberry: I think having a younger perspective. When we look at things like development, when we look at things like city resources, county resources, state resources, I think oftentimes we’re seeing different things. Just look at Reno, for example. What used to thrive: the economics of casino culture and buffets and that downtown life. Reno was a very different city in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and even part of the ’80s. And then we really started to see a lot of things that used to work for Reno declined heavily. And as those things declined, other things came into play that I’m not quite sure the older generation saw as quickly as the younger generation. I think that’s important.
I was 23 when we first started the co-op. And now I would actually consider myself an older person that might be more disconnected from things that young adults who are 23 now, which is why I think it’s really important to have young peoples’ minds and voices at the table. And as an environmentalist and as someone who runs an organization geared toward food security and as low impact carbon footprint with our food as possible, I only see that narrative getting richer and kids becoming more educated about the things that contribute to a damaged environment. And so I think it’s really important to have young peoples’ voices heard in business development because it helps us to create a more sustainable world as we proceed forward. Because I don’t think the value system is entirely the same as it used to be.
Q: What under-the-radar industry or industries do you see having the biggest opportunity for growth in this area?
Amber Sallaberry: I think artisanal food — of course I’m going to say that. We’re already seeing that; we’ve seen brewery culture and coffee culture go through the roof in Reno. People who are refocusing food not just as this huge commodity that comes through these large vendors that come out of CAFOs — Confined Animal Feeding Operations. It’s not the big mechanized beast anymore. And people are looking more at craft artisanal cocktails and craft artisanal meats and craft fermented vegetables and anything that’s more of a hand-derived artisanal process. I think there’s a lot of room for that. Reno’s focused a lot on coffee and beer, and I think we have huge opportunities for more and more artisanal, unique food.
Q: Where do you see the greater Reno-Sparks region in five years?
Amber Sallaberry: I see it continuing to develop more cultural venues, art venues, music venues, food venues … Like I said earlier, I see our continued move away from the downtown casino gaming life or maybe re-inventing that to a certain degree into something that feels fun again for locals and young people. And not just a huge touristy thing. I don’t want to say anything rude … I just think you go downtown and everyone can kind of see for themselves like what the scene is in downtown Reno. And until Midtown almost moves through the downtown core — I think, unfortunately, you probably have to lose a few of the casinos — and they create more vibrancy in the downtown core for locals, I don’t think you’re going to get away from those inherent issues. But I do see us continuing to move more and more toward revitalizing downtown in a way that locals want to participate again, young people want to participate again.
Q: If you could change one thing for the better about your community, what would it be?
Amber Sallaberry: I don’t think we would have such a down-and-out mental-health-and-physical-health-destroyed homeless population if there were better food available and better food resources. If you look at most of the kitchens around town … and I thank all of the angels that dedicate their lives to feeding homeless people and the folks behind the food bank that offer resources so that people can eat. It’s just tricky because you look at what you feed your family and you look at what you know is a nutritious diet, and then you look at what people are getting fed — packaged things, things processed, filled with preservatives and chemicals and pretty denatured, like white bread PB&Js every day for a week — it’s not going to help someone get better. And I just wish we had more resources toward rehabilitating food systems for homeless people.
And I know that tons of people would probably disagree with me because they’re given handouts, and that whole huge debate about food stamps and who should get it and people earning their own living in the world. But, it’s outside of that whole welfare conversation. I think the one basic human right that everyone deserves is good food. It would be awesome, especially for a lot of people who can’t get back on their feet, who can’t get back to work because their mental health is too compromised or their physical health is too compromised. And, yeah, there’s probably drinking and drugs in the mix, but I don’t have the skills, the resources or the information or the knowledge to even begin to tackle some of that. The one thing I do know, though, is that people at a basic level function so much better when they’re eating well.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.