BUILDING GOOD HABITS
Teen launches coupon program for fresh produce.
WRITTEN BY JEANNE LAUF WALPOLE
PHOTOS BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN
Eating a healthy diet has never been a problem for Karthik Rohatgi, a senior at Reno's Davidson Academy.
"I'm a vegetarian and I love my vegetables," he says.
Many other young people, however, eat too many unhealthy foods, putting themselves at high risk for obesity and a host of other health problems. Kids who are the most vulnerable to eating unhealthy diets are those from low-income families who struggle to provide nutritious food for their tables.
When Rohatgi learned of programs in other states that provide coupons for healthy foods to low-income families through medical clinics, it lit a spark in him to do something similar in his own community. Although 36 states offer coupons through their Women, Infants and Children Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs, Nevada does not. Rohatgi launched his Farm Fresh For Kids program in 2011 to fill that niche.
Through partnerships with health clinics, local farmers and nutrition programs, Farm Fresh For Kids not only makes it easier for families to purchase healthy foods, but also teaches them the importance of eating it and how to use it.
"One of the main goals is to help people get better access to food," he says. "It's a noble thing to feed the hungry, but we need to build structural changes to build good nutritional habits."
Qualifying low-income families can receive coupons from partners that over the years have included Health Access Washoe County, or HAWC; the Student Outreach Clinic at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine; the Wells Avenue Clinic; and the Dental Nutrition Clinic. Coupons can be redeemed for fresh produce at farmers' markets by local farmers that include Workman Farms, Salisha's Delicious, Lattin Farms, and Carrol's Corner Truck Farm. Supporting local agriculture also is an important element of the program, according to Rohatgi.
With its focus on nutritional awareness, the program supplies educational materials about nutrition and recipes for preparing healthy foods. In addition, Farm Fresh For Kids has provided fresh produce at select schools through its Direct-to-School program. Its partners include the Great Basin Community Food Co-op, Sierra Vista Elementary School, and the Community Services Agency's Head Start, all in Reno.
Although Rohatgi says he was pretty much a lone wolf during the program's first year, he was able to attract several other students to it through the Davidson Academy's Health & Social Justice Club the following year.
"It was uncomfortable in the beginning," he says.
When he heads to college in the fall, Sarah Tacner, who will be a senior next year at Davidson, will take over the leadership role.
"My idea is social reform in general," she says. "I got started on it as I was working on a garden. I think it's important because it's easy to forget what it's like for others."
She says one of her main goals is to continue to grow the program by increasing the number of sponsors.
For updated information about Farm Fresh For Kids and how to donate to the program, visit http://www.Farmfreshforkids.org
As someone who loves organic produce, freelance writer Jeanne Lauf Walpole applauds the Farm Fresh For Kids program.