By Juliana Bledsoe

Karthik Rohatgi is a seventeen-year-old  senior at the Davidson Academy here   at the University of Nevada, Reno, and   while in some ways he is a typical high   school student, he is also helping change   the lives of the children of low-income   families in the community.

Not only is his   venture non-profit organization, Farm   Fresh For Kids, helping to get fresh fruits   and vegetables to children in low-income   families in our area, but he is also working to benefit small-scale farmers in the   local food-shed as well.

“Farm Fresh for Kids is a nonprofit that   I’ve been working on for the past few   years with a couple of the other Davidson   Academy students,” said Rohatgi, “What   we’ve been doing is giving out these farmers market vouchers.

We give them out at   HAWK, WIC clinics, Nevada Health Alliance, Nevada Early Intervention Clinics,   and a bunch of clinics around town.”   These vouchers are then passed on to   low-income patients who could benefit   most from the program.

Aid is distributed based on the income dietary needs   of the family, as well as age and the  number of children.

“From there, they take the vouchers to   the farmers markets to help them access   healthy foods that they wouldn’t otherwise   have,” Rohatgi said.

Karthik Rohatgi, a  senior at The Davidson  Academy, started the Farm Fresh For Kids program in order to supply local needy families with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Photo Courtesy of

Karthik Rohatgi, a
senior at The Davidson
Academy, started the Farm Fresh For Kids program in order to supply local needy families with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Photo Courtesy of

“We also pay the farmers for whatever vouchers they have taken   in, so we end up benefiting the family and   the farmer at the same time.”   This year, Farm Fresh for Kids is partnering with Workman Farms, Salisha’s   Delicious, Lattin Farms and The Great Basin Community Food Cooperative.

They   are also handing out vouchers at the Wells   Avenue clinic and Community Services   Agency Head Start, as well as on campus at   the UNR Student Outreach Clinic.

“We’ve found a lot of people, especially   at the Great Basin Co-op, that are really   excited about helping us,” Rohatgi said.   The program provides vouchers to between 30-40 at-risk families per year, and Rohatgi estimates that the program has   helped close to 200 families total thus far.

It places a strong emphasis in keeping that   funding within the community by supporting local farmers, whom Rohatgi says have been bushed out by large chain supermarkets that don’t always offer the same quality   of produce.

Each family receives $25-$30   in vouchers per month, which can be used   with participating farmers at local farmer’s   markets or at the GBCFC.   “It wasn’t quite my idea,” Rohatgi said.

“There is a Massachusetts nonprofit Wholesome Waves that is doing the same thing; I   read about that back in 2010, and I got the   idea of starting it here, because in a lot of other states, the state government does a   program like this, but Nevada doesn’t, so I   thought that this would be a good place to   follow Wholesome Waves model.”

Last year, the program reported that   participants redeemed $910 worth of pro-   gram vouchers, $895 of which was spent at   local farmers markets. The remaining $15   was spent at The GBCFC.

In a follow-up   questionnaire, 100 percent of the families   reported that the program helped make   their children more interested in eating   fruits and vegetables, and the same percentage also reported that the program   made it more easy to access this fresh, local   produce year-round.

FFFK also works to help educate these   families about the nutritional benefits of   eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

It provides   educational pamphlets on the importance   of nutrition and how to maintain it, and it also distributes a cooking guide with “simple yet tasty recipes for some commonly   encountered vegetables” that helps teach   families the basic preparation of vegetables   such as squashes and leafy greens.

FFFK does occasional deliveries of fresh   vegetables from its partner farmers to   Sierra Vista Title 1 Elementary School and   the Head Start program office at Wooster   High School.

In a talk Rohatgi gave at the Reno TEDx   event last year, he expressed his belief that the  American obesity epidemic is rooted in the   relatively low access that many low-income   families have to fresh, local produce.

“When the founding fathers contemplated   the expansion of America, I don’t think that   this is what they had in mind, “ Rohatgi said.   However he addressed this is a serious   issue that especially affects needy families.

He sites statistics such as that “U.S. house-   holds with incomes less than or equal to   130 percent of the poverty line are most   vulnerable for poor health outcomes partly   because they purchase fewer fruits and   vegetables than higher-income house-   holds.” —Albert et. al, Am J Prev Med, 2006   May; 30(5): 365-70.

He also noted that needy families in this   area are at an even greater disadvantage   because the availability of fresh fruits and   vegetables are relatively low.

Our agricultural zone is categorized as a food desert,   and even the availability of a supermarket   is a challenge when, as Rohatgi said in his   TEDx talk, “Of the 25 nearest places that   families can redeem their food stamps (to   the University of Nevada, Reno), none of   them are a full service grocery store.”

“All these factors together put low income families at a greater risk for obesity   and related medical conditions including   heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke,” he said during his talk.  “This was my motivation when I founded   Farm Fresh for Kids in January 2011.”

“He’s such a great person,” said Melissa   Lance, Head of Media Convergence for the   Davidson Institute, which oversees the Davidson Academy. “He’s so passionate about   his philanthropy. It’s really cool.”

Rohatgi is the founder and president of   FFFK, and he runs the organization with   his friends and schoolmates in the Health   and Social Justice Club at the Davidson   Academy.

As he is a senior, he will be   graduating this year, but other than attending one of the 13 colleges he applied to, he   is not entirely sure what the future holds.   “My main interests are in public health   and statistics,” Rohatgi said.

“I’m also   considering medicine, but I’m not sure yet.   I have a whole bunch of interests in health   disparities, anthropology, biostatistics, so   I’m not sure where I’ll end up.”




Juliana Bledsoe can be reached at