When I step onto my back patio, I find strawberries, tomatoes and onions. I can see the nearest grocery store from my front porch. It is three blocks away. I have access to fresh, healthy foods, but not everyone does. According to the USDA, 40 of our state’s census tracts are food deserts. Within those tracts live nearly 200,000 Nevadans, most of them in urban areas.
The USDA defines food deserts as 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. For rural areas, the distance increases to ten miles.
The Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (renoinitiative.org) says that major food deserts of Reno/Sparks include the area north of I-80 between Sierra and Sutro Streets, and the large swath east of 395 bordered by the Truckee River and Prater Boulevard. According to RISE, 20 percent of the population in these areas is without a vehicle and more than one half of a mile away from the grocery store.
People in and out of food deserts can experience food insecurity. Food insecure homes do not always have access to enough food for all household members to lead an active, healthy life. According to The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, more than one in six Nevadans is food insecure.
The Department developed a strategic plan to fight food insecurity in Nevada. The plan includes the help of school and community gardens as well as cottage industries, or home-based companies. The Food Bank of Northern Nevada (fbnn.org) harnesses the power of local gardeners to feed communities through its Plant a Row for the Hungry program.
One resource that can help school and community gardens, cottage industries and home gardeners, and, by extension, those experiencing food deserts or food insecurity, is University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Grow Your Own, Nevada! program. The program presents classes statewide about backyard or small-acreage edible gardening and food preserving.
“We’re offering these courses to help Nevada growers turn their backyards into sustainable, edible gardens,” said Cooperative Extension Horticulture Specialist Heidi Kratsch.
Earstin Whitten, Cooperative Extension master gardener volunteer and Garlic Selection instructor finds the local food production focus of the series fulfilling. “I think it’s satisfying to be able to grow things and consume them yourself. You can’t get any closer to farm-to-table than growing stuff in your own backyard and eating it at your own table.”
Scope your neighborhood’s food desert status at ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas. To find a copy of “Food Insecurity in Nevada: Nevada’s Plan for Action,” a report by The Nevada Department for Health and Human Services, visit diversifynevada.com/uploads/studies/StrategicPlanFoodSecurityinNV_020713.pdf.