This sounds counterintuitive, until you look at the price of a box of macaroni and cheese versus that of a handful of stir-fry vegetables:
According to the private Washington State Budget & Policy Center, shoppers in rural Washington have a harder time getting fresh fruits and vegetables on their tables. From the group's report:
...For those living in poverty and struggling to keep food on the table, financial and geographic barriers make it harder to shop at grocery stores. As a result, they often turn to corner markets or gas-station mini-marts for food, where there are fewer healthy options."
"Ironically, in the areas of our state where much of the nation's fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, families are having trouble finding them in the stores where they shop," said Stacey Schultz, a policy analyst and author of the report.
She also cites an interesting recent study in Chicago that found that obesity rates increased as access to grocery stores decreased. It focused on the urban version of the problem, labeling vast stretches of the Chicago area "food deserts" (not desserts).
"While many of us take food options for granted, residents of the food desert
often cannot choose between eating an apple instead of a candy bar, a salad instead of french fries, or fresh skinless chicken instead of deep fried, high-fat chicken," the Chicago study said.
Washington state's government, as well as the feds, have helped by expanding eligibility and benefits for food stamps and paying for programs that focus on getting fruits and vegetables to children and seniors, she says. The state recently passed legislation that gives schools with a high number of low-income students more money to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. (I think the law also streamlined bidding rules to make it easier to buy the produce from area farms.) The Women, Infants and Children food program is also focusing more on fresh produce, and many farmers' markets -- including in Spokane -- are starting to accept food stamps.
The Washington report (see page 4), includes a map that shows that across broad swaths of Eastern Washington and the Olympic Peninsula, the average drive to a grocery store is 15-38 miles. These are also often the areas of the state "with the highest poverty rates and high rates of food insecurity," writes Schultz.
The report doesn't however, try to gauge the impact of vegetable gardens, which poor, rural residents presumably are more likely to have.