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City aims to help fight against food deserts with fruit trees

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Large portions of north Reno are designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as both low income and low access when it comes to fresh, affordable and nutritious foods. The areas are commonly known as food deserts. 

Statewide, one in eight people, and one in five children, struggle with hunger. In 2018, only 17% of residents lived within a walkable quarter-mile to a “healthful retail food outlet” such as a grocery store or farmers market, according to the city’s sustainability manager, Suzanne Groneman. 

Reno City Council members on Wednesday approved a $4,000 grant from Nevada Plants Community Forestry to help fight against these food deserts in Reno. 

NPCF’s grant funds the planting of fruit trees in or near USDA designated food deserts. Those trees will be cared for by city parks and recreation employees and other nonprofits who have offered their help. 

The city’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan includes a specific call for more community gardens and community-supported agriculture. 

Groneman said community accessible fruit orchards are extremely limited in Reno. 

In addition, increasing tree canopy in Reno will also help to decrease heat, and aligns with the city’s climate change mitigation goals, she said. 

The grant will cover the cost of planting 15-25 trees on city-owned property. 

“This is a first of its kind project for the city of Reno,” Groneman said. 

All public comment submitted via email for the item was in favor of its passage. 

Council member Naomi Duerr – who is an advocate for increasing Reno’s tree canopy – said that throughout her career with city council, there has always been a lot of negative input received regarding city-owned fruit trees due to the maintenance, such as dealing with fallen fruit, and that fruit trees were specifically banned from city right-of-way areas. 

Matt Basile, urban forester for the city, said a lot of work has been done to expand the acceptable tree list for the city, and that fruit trees have been allowed to be planted in approved locations. 

“There’s a lot of situations where fruit trees are appropriate in the landscape, and this is a good example of a project we think will work well,” Basile said. 

Basile said he expects the project will be successful based on a partnership with the Reno Gleaning Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to tree stewardship and reduction of food waste. The project sends volunteers to pick fruit and produce when landowners have too much to harvest themselves, and gives advice on caring for fruit trees and their harvests. 

The Gleaning Project then transports picked fruit to shelters and organizations focused on feeding individuals in need throughout the city. 

The city’s project, however, would focus on providing the fruit to nearby residents and neighbors who may benefit from the proximity to the trees. 

The trees will be planted by September, with planting areas chosen based on USDA food desert designations. 

Council member Meghan Ebert said she would like to see this project expanded throughout Reno, especially in the North Valleys, and she said she would like to see the grant reapplied for each year if possible. 

However, she questioned the areas to be planted, and asked why the areas were chosen. 

Meghan Ebert, Reno City Council member. Image: City of Reno.
Meghan Ebert, Reno City Council member. Image: City of Reno.

“If we truly want to provide walkable access, there’s already walkable food access in these areas,” Ebert said. “I have areas (in my ward) which are truly not walkable.” 

Groneman said that she did not know why the USDA designates those zones, but that funds can only be used in those areas. 

The USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas defines a food desert – known as low access – by the number and share of people at different distances from “the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store, as well as the number of housing units in the area without access to a vehicle and that are more than 0.5 mile from one of these stores.”

“I do agree we need to do more tree plantings in the North Valleys,” Basile said, and offered to work with Ebert on the areas that could be selected for future plantings. 

Council approved of the project unanimously. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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