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Basil farmer adding pesto kitchen to herb business

Champ Roach already has a well-established business supplying basil to Las Vegas casinos. The Pahrump Regional Planning Commission last week approved his plans to add a pesto kitchen.

Roach’s greenhouse, on eight acres at 9680 S. Oakridge Ave., is a non-conforming use in a village residential zone, planner Beth Lee told the board. As such, Roach requires a conditional use permit to expand. He will be adding a commercial kitchen and portable freezer unit to produce and store the pesto from his basil crop.

RPC Chairman John Koenig said he was impressed with Roach’s operation, which he described as an efficient use of water.

Roach said his pesto kitchen next has to be approved by inspectors for the Clark County Health District, as Nye County doesn’t have a health department.

“I produce pretty close to 2,000 pounds per month,” Roach said of his basil crop. “I’m pretty much the biggest agricultural grower in Nye County except for some alfalfa growers.”

So why basil?

“It’s the biggest bang for the buck. I’m a farmer,” he said.

In his written request, Roach said he will add employees, there will be no impact on adjacent properties, no need for public utilities and no traffic impacts. The only public comment came from Sharon Davis, 9671 S. Oakridge Ave., who said she’s never had any problems with Roach’s basil operation in 19 years, but worried about how it may affect her water and any additional traffic.

“There is no real process to go along with pesto, all we do is grind up basil and olive oil with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic and it’s packaged in a little container and frozen. We plan on using the same van that we’re using now to deliver it. We might have to go to a refrigerated van. I have the feeling as the business grows, since we’ve got to go out and find the customers for it, as the business grows, we might end up getting a refrigerated van. As of right now we’ll use dry ice,” Roach told the RPC. He added, “For the 100,000 plants I grow, my water usage is extremely minimal.”

Roach delivers his basil to Las Vegas casinos six days per week. His customers include Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants, the Venetian, the Aria and Mandalay Bay Resort.

Basil is sensitive to cold. Roach said in the winters he uses seven 250,000 BTU heaters to keep his crop warm, which consumes 7,000 pounds of propane during the season.

According to the planning department report, Roach developed his property from 1981 to 1999 with a 30,000-square-foot greenhouse, office and two water tanks of 10,000 and 3,000 gallons each. Planners estimate he uses roughly 8,000 gallons per day of water.

While he got high marks for conservation, Roach is concerned about the state engineer taking some of his 15 acre feet of water rights, as he’s not using all of it right now. But he plans to use it for expansion.

There are other high dollar crops like arugula, Roach said, or medical marijuana, which he hopes to grow when Nye County Commissioners begin accepting applications.

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