How a WSU program is helping families grow their own food - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

How a WSU program is helping families grow their own food

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KENNEWICK, WA - Here in eastern Washington, we produce a lot of the country's fruits and vegetables, which is why you may be surprised to find out that almost 17,000 people in Benton and Franklin Counties don't have access to fresh produce. Reporter Jaclyn Selesky learned more about what these people are going through, living in areas known as "food deserts".

"Almost all of east Pasco, past Fiesta Foods and all of north Franklin County is considered a food desert," said Bill Dixon, coordinator with the WSU Master Gardeners program.

A food desert, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is part of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods. In a rural community like eastern Washington, to be considered a food desert, you have to live ten miles away from a grocery store.

"You might just think well, why don't you drive to the supermarket? Well some of these people don't have vehicles," said Dixon.

Like Dawn Miller, who lives in east Kennewick. The Red Apple supermarket is only a few miles away, but with no means of transportation, it's hard for her to make the she goes to the small Nob Hill Market for most of her groceries.

"I just know coming to convenience stores you don't really get the best of foods," said Miller. "There's not really fresh produce. Sometimes you can find expired stuff in these convenience stores. So not big choices on healthy food."

Bill Dixon says he's part of a small solution to a big problem. About five years ago, Washington State University launched their Master Gardeners Program.

"What we decided is teaching people how to grow their own food," said Dixon. "And helping them grow their own food."

They help build community gardens in low-income neighborhoods. The garden at Jay Perry Park in Kennewick is the pilot garden.

"This little garden, as small as it is, produced about 1,000 pounds a year," said Dixon.

Not only do they help build them, they also teach the community the do's and don'ts of gardening.

"We assign master gardeners to the garden to help the gardeners be successful and to maximize their harvest," said Dixon, "and this year we'll be mentoring over 40 gardens in Benton and Franklin Counties."

This means that they'll be helping feed more than 500 families. If you want to get involved, call the WSU Tri-Cities extension office and ask for Bill Dixon.