Teaching How to Grow Healthy Food in Reno’s Food Desert


Northern Nevadans live in the high desert and a food desert. In many parts of Reno and Sparks, it is much easier to find drugs and alcohol than healthy fruits and vegetables. As Ashley Andrews reports for Our Town Reno with archive photos by Master Gardener Volunteers Shelley DeDauw and Bill Kositzky, one way to have access to fresh, healthy food is to grow it yourself. In this report, Andrews showcases two University of Nevada Cooperative Extension programs. Grow Your Own, Nevada! offers classes about sustainable, local ways to grow and preserve healthy food. Grow Yourself Healthy works with Mariposa Academy in Reno to teach students  to grow, harvest and enjoy healthy foods.

Fresh, healthy foods like these Mariposa Academy grown carrots may be hard to find for many Reno residents. Photo by Master Gardener Shelley DeDauw.

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 here, where good food may be hard to come by.

With grocery stores out of reach for some Reno-area families, garden-grown produce can be the key to healthy meals. Photos of Mariposa Academy school garden farmers’ market by Master Gardener Shelley DeDauw.

A School’s Garden and a Learning Opportunity

In a low-income, low-access community near the Reno-Tahoe Airport, Mariposa Academy educates children of one Reno food desert. There, Cooperative Extension employees and volunteers help grow a grant-supported food garden.

The Mariposa Academy school garden helps children of one area food desert learn to grow and eat healthy food. Photo by Master Gardener Bill Kositzky.

Do it Yourself

Through its Grow Your Own, Nevada! Program, Extension helps everyone to garden, not just school children. This is important because one way to find fresh, healthy food where it can be scarce is to grow it yourself. Horticulture Specialist Heidi Kratsch says that is why her Grow Your Own, Nevada! program exists.

“Because people care about growing their own food here,– and 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,” said Kratsch.

“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.”

Grow Your Own, Nevada! 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.”

Do it yourself, and you could one day even start selling your healthy fruits and vegetables at a local farmer’s market. Photo by Shelley DeDauw.



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