By Ashley Andrews with archive photos by Shelley DeDaw and Bill Kositzky
Northern Nevadans live in the high desert and a food desert. In many parts of Reno and Sparks, it's much easier to find drugs and alcohol than healthy fruits and vegetables. As Ashley Andrews reports for Our Town Reno with archive photos by gardeners Shelley DeDauw and Bill Kositzky, one way to have access to fresh, healthy food is to try and grow some yourself. In this report Andrews showcases the Grow Your Own, Nevada! initiative which has classes and experiments about sustainable, local ways to grow and preserve healthy food. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension program works with the Mariposa Academy in Reno to teach students and volunteers growing, harvesting and preservation techniques.
Stats and Facts about Reno's Food Deserts
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food deserts are communities that are both low-income and low-access. Low-access urban areas are those where more than one third of residents live more than one mile from a supermarket.
Eight census tracts in the Reno-Sparks area are food deserts. More than 36,000 people live there, where fresh, healthy food is difficult to find.
One mile can be a long walk home if groceries must be carried on the journey. When low-access is narrowed from one mile to one half of a mile to the nearest supermarket, nearly 30 area census tracts can be considered food deserts. Over 120,000 people live in this type perimeter in the area, where good food may be hard to come by.
A School's Garden and a Learning Opportunity
In a low-income, low-access community near the Reno-Tahoe airport, the grant-supported food garden is thriving at Mariposa Academy.
“People care about growing their own food here," horticulture specialist Heidi Kratsch explains. "The Cooperative Extension is all based on the needs of the community– and the community has said loud and clear, ‘we need to know how to grow our own food here in Nevada,’ so that’s why we’re doing it."
“I gain a lot of information on how to do a wide variety of things," participant John Davenport says. "Fruit tree pruning, roses, raised flower beds, it never ends.”
Do it Yourself
A class instructor Wendy Hanson Mazet explains everyone can start growing their own food, in pots, raised beds or even inside their homes. “Strawberries can be grown in the home," she says. "And you can pollinate them very easily by just shaking the flowers by your fingertips. But the thing is, see what you can do in your home. Do something that you like to eat. Not something that someone tells you to do. Do what you enjoy. Experiment. Failure is just an opportunity to learn new things.”