No Sugar-Coating the Truth About Our Diet

July 14, 2014

Summer is full of sweet temptations — nothing beats an ice cream cone or a popsicle on a hot summer day, and the stone fruit that is in season now just begs to be baked into cobblers, crumbles and pies. But we’ve been hearing a lot lately about the negative effects of sugar on our bodies. Many of you who were able to see the movie “Fed Up” during its short stint in Nevada County have made changes to your diet as a result of what you learned about sugar from that film. Some of you are even taking the 10-day sugar-free “Fed-up Challenge!”

So how much sugar is ok in our diet? In 2002, the World Health Organization’s recommendation was that sugars should make up less than 10% of our total energy intake per day, but they have recently drafted new guidelines that suggest that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day, or around 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an average adult.

They aren’t just talking about table sugar that is added to food — we should also include sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. Sound easy? Consider how much sugar is “hidden” in processed foods. For example, one tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (a teaspoon) of sugar, and a single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar. Whoops, there goes your daily allowance.

Need more inspiration to lower the amount of sugar you consume? This short (four and half minute) video called “The Sugary Truth” from the Tremendous Collective shows how sugar can sneak into our diet and do real damage to our health. It also includes five handy tips on how to avoid and reduce the damage that sugar can do to our bodies:

  1. Avoid sugary drinks — drink herbal iced tea or carbonated water instead (but read number two before you purchase a drink).
  2. Read labels on processed foods carefully to determine how much sugar a product contains — watch out for sugar’s many disguise such as “fructose”, “glucose”, and “maltodextrin”.
  3. Exercise — a daily half hour walk can help reduce sugar cravings (and stress!).
  4. Avoid processed “low fat” foods — they often make up for the missing fat with extra salt and…you guessed it…sugar.
  5. Eat more fiber — 25-30 grams a day.




Preserving Farm Land in Nevada County for our Future Farmers

June 24, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs part of Sierra Harvest’s mission to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal food, we train farmers who know how to grow this food. However, if these farmers don’t have access to agricultural land in Nevada County, we won’t get very far. Recently, we have been talking with the Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) to figure out how we might collaborate on preserving agricultural land (that might otherwise be developed) for new farmers.

The average age of farmers in Nevada County is 57 years old, and most have no succession plan for their farms. Through the “Land for Farmers” campaign, the Bear Yuba Land Trust works with ranchers in Nevada County to preserve their land as farm land in perpetuity. The incentive is called an “agricultural conservation easement”. Farm owners stand to make more money selling or leasing their land to developers, but if they agree to put it in an easement, the BYLT will raise money to pay them the difference in price. Or, the land owner might choose not to take the money, and simply enjoy the benefits of lower property taxes and knowing that they have preserved land for generations to come.. It also opens up land for new farmers to farm – in fact the easement requires that the land is farmed.

IMG_0432This is where Sierra Harvest would come in. Sierra Harvest could find young farmers who are looking for land to farm, and connect them with the easement land. Initially, we would partner with farmer training programs like the one at UC Santa Cruz Extension to find farmers; eventually we will have our own local farmer training and journeyman program to draw from. (Sierra Harvest’s Journeyman program is currently on hiatus until we find more land to use to train farmers.)

This program is currently in the research phase, but we are always looking to connect good land with farmers who are looking for it. If you are looking for land, you can let us know by emailing us at If you have land you want farmed, you can e-mail us or upload information about your site to our online Land Bank.  


On Pests and “Co-opetition”: Amie Fenwick of Boxcar Farm Shares the Good, the Bad, and the Beauty of Being a Farmer in Nevada County

June 24, 2014

Part of our mission at Sierra Harvest is to introduce YOU, our community, to as many local farmers as we can. This month we talked to Amie Fenwick of Boxcar Farm in Nevada City.

box_car_Amie SH: How did you decide to become a farmer?

AF: I was doing social work in Philadelphia, but was feeling pent-up, being indoors under fluorescent lights and not using my body. I wanted to do something physically challenging that would make me tired at the end of the day. So, I moved to California and volunteered through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at Green Fire Farm in Hoopa (Humboldt County). When I got there, I found my dream farm – I stayed there all year instead of leaving for another farm a few weeks later, as I had planned. Eventually they built me a cabin and started paying me, and I returned for a second year. Grady (the farmer) has so much joy for the work.

In 2009 I was living in Nevada County with a garden that was too big for me, so I began sharing the extra food with neighbors. I was enjoying the process of building community and feeding my neighbors. By 2012, I realized that with just a bit of expansion, I could develop the project into a small farm.


SH: Tell us about your farm.

AF: I was trying to figure out how a landless farmer who couldn’t afford to lease land could start a farming business. On my birthday, I posted to the local food coalition email list asking for what I needed, and I woke up to 50 or 60 responses. I toured all of these parcels of land around the county and found this beautiful family who was a perfect fit. They have 10 acres, and I farm a ½ acre. The business is all me – I’m the only employee. It’s a manageable size and I learn a lot each year. We have a work trade arrangement – the land owners have a full pantry of pickles and salsa. It’s a win-win for both of us.

I have grown a huge diversity of vegetables, herbs, and tropical melons, but this year I am experimenting with fewer crops – 15-20. I’ve eliminated the crops that don’t thrive, as well as the crops that I don’t particularly enjoy growing, like summer squash. I believe the crops that I love to work with can tell as much, and end up being just beautiful, and the crops that I dislike respond in kind.

SH: Why “Boxcar”?

AF: One of the conditions of farming this property was to live on the land, so I moved into a tiny trailer on the property, and it was like running an entire farm business out of a little box. I also loved the Boxcar Children book series as a kid.


SH: How did you work with Sierra Harvest last season?

AF: I worked with Scotten School as their Farm to School partner. I grew produce for their garden stand and starts for their plant sale. I also did presentations at both Scotten and Chicago Park schools. At Chicago Park, I helped the kids clean out the garden and learn about what was growing there, amend the soil, plant seeds, and care for the plants. The kids did it completely on their own – I wanted them to see that they could do this by themselves and really make something of it. I started with the 8th graders and we figured out how they could help the littler kids who were following behind them in the garden—pulling out the biggest weeds, carrying the heaviest loads of compost.

At Scotten this past Winter we made miniature greenhouses out of old plastic bottles. They learned about why greenhouses are beneficial and how they can give plants what they need.

SH: What do you hope the kids come away with after one of your visits?

AF: I want the kids to engage with the earth. I love being a student, watching the plants, experiencing the mystery of the transition from seed to carrot on the plate. I want to share that mystery and wonder, encourage them to be curious and keep experimenting in the outdoors.

SH: What is the biggest challenge you face as a farmer?

AF: The Pests! I used to joke that every pest I know about is on this parcel of land, except caterpillars on my tomatoes. Now I have caterpillars on my tomatoes.


SH: Little known fact about you?

AF: I used to be a carnie – I worked a Midway game for an old-school traveling carnival out of Florida. My co-workers were fascinating people.

SH: Anything else you want to share with our readers?

AF: I have been pretty awed by the amount of support that the community has offered. Experienced friends and farmers have been so open and helpful with sharing what works and what doesn’t. My friend calls it “Co-opetition,” since of course we’re also all trying to sell tomatoes in September.

I feel grateful that there is such a demand for fresh, seasonal, clean food in this area. People are ready to pay extra for good food– I’ve had so much interest from chefs and co-ops. It’s not like that where I grew up in rural Illinois, where a CSA is still a foreign concept.

SH: What’s next for Boxcar Farm?

AF: Watching and learning. I’m continuing to learn. I’d like to get more involved in the outreach to schools – it’s so much fun to bring kids into the farming process. I would also like to keep working with Sierra Harvest – I see Sierra Harvest as sort of the Avengers of the local food world, with everyone who has been involved in local food  in this community now working together for one organization.


Meet Gracie and Brie, Sierra Harvest’s 2014 Interns!

May 20, 2014
Farmer Katie with interns Brie and Gracie in the green house.

Farmer Katie with interns Brie and Gracie in the green house.

Brienna (“Brie”) Gerard and Gracie Schatz are interning with the Food Love Project this season. I got to know them a little better over a freshly-picked lunch on a lovely Spring afternoon on the back porch at Lost Hill Farm.

How did you come to be an intern with Sierra Harvest?

Brie: I was living in Michigan and substitute teaching, wanting to get into educational farming, and winter was getting close. I drove to California, and eventually found this internship, after falling in love with Nevada City and the trees and the mountains.

Gracie: I was managing a butcher shop in San Francisco, but I have always wanted to be a farmer. I thought that Food Love would be the place where I would learn the most, and where people would offer the most knowledge. It’s true – all the older farmers in the community offer us starts and advice. 25 hours a week felt manageable – I can still work on my music, ceramics, canning, cooking, butchering… I eventually want to teach butchering classes, and teach people about food preservation.

Describe a Day in the Life of a Food Love Project intern.

Brie: On field trip days, we get out to the farm early, and make sure that the farm is ready for the kids to come – we turn off the chicken fence, clear the paths, make sure the tools are safely stowed.

Gracie: This week I took kids on a scavenger hunt, tasting chive flowers, finding bees, catching chickens. We plant, seed, harvest strawberries, find worms. After the field trip, we work on the farm – we weed, turn beds, add amendments, test soil, move chickens, turn the compost piles, mulch, and water the green house.

Brie: It’s hard work, but we rest and take care of our bodies.

Gracie: We drink lots of water, snack.

Brie: We get done around 1pm and have the rest of the time to explore other farms, and work in the garden at Lost Hill where we grow our own food. Once a week we milk goats at Wet Hill. Thursdays we take a farming class at Woolman.

Gracie: Once a week we do permaculture projects with the owner of Lost Hill. She is great about letting us run with our ideas. As long as our plan is well-researched and thought out, she lets us do it.

Brie: Like put in a sauna.

Gracie: Or a solar shower.

Brie: We do a lot of propagating – native plants that we want to disperse.  In the evenings, Gracie often cooks. At least half of what we eat comes from the garden. For breakfast, we collect eggs and kale and potatoes – it’s delicious.

Gracie: There are so many opportunities here to grow and learn from farmers, from previous Sierra Harvest interns, from Food Love.

Brie: This community is amazing for farmers.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Brie: Sheep sorrel is ruining my life right now. It grows all over the farm. It’s a perennial that can choke out our crops. It can regrow from even just a small part of its root. Sometimes you have to dig down two feet to get the roots. We basically have to dig up the whole farm.

Gracie: The hardest part of my job is figuring out not only how to make farming exciting and fun for the kids that visit the farm but to also make sure that they are retaining information about what quality food is. We want to change the way they relate to their food so that they can be catalysts for change in their families and their communities.


Gracie at Lost Hill

Gracie at Lost Hill

What do you hope to learn from this internship?

Brie: I want to learn how to connect an educational farm to a community, filling community needs, and figuring out how to make growing food important and interesting and FUN. Educating children and getting them excited about food through taste testing is a big part of that, but I’m excited about U-pick and plant sales, and everything else that gets people connected to the farm.

Gracie: I want to learn how to make a farm financially sustainable. Farms are clearly something the community needs – how do we make them thrive? I’m interested in how young farmers like Tim of First Rain and Amanda of Food Love started their farms – what starting a farm looks like. I want to get practical farming skills – amending soil, hardening plants from the greenhouse. And then relating it all to children is a whole different set of skills I hope to acquire.

What are your plans for after the internship? 

Brie: I want to stay in the field of farm education – work in urban farming, with low-income inner city communities that don’t have access to food, food deserts. I want to bring the idea of gardening and farming to those kids.

Brie with Greens!

Brie with Greens!

Gracie: Farming and Butchering have complementary seasons – I want to work at a butcher store in the off-season and farm the rest of the time. I want to spend the next 2-3 years farming other people’s land and learning from those endeavors. I want to transfer my knowledge of butchering to farmers, and start a mobile butchering education business. I also want to go on tour with my band.

What do you love about farming?

Gracie: I really love watching things grow. I get so excited when seeds sprout up, and then watching them get bigger, and then we get to eat them! Watching that whole process is what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Brie: Farming is a way of life. Even as a hobby – it changes the way you live. Thinking about what you are buying or not buying. I love eating locally and conscientiously. Small scale farms build real community in a way that institutions can’t. Nevada City is a great example of this!


Focus on Farm to School at Ready Springs Elementary

May 20, 2014

Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program is currently active in 16 elementary schools in the county.  This is Ready Springs’ second year in the program. Ready Springs is a small, K-8 school in Penn Valley, with one class per grade. Being a rural school, many people assume that most of the kids know about gardening, but in fact a large part of the school’s population lives in nearby apartment buildings, without access to gardens. Ready Springs Farm to School Liaison Rosie Mariani is grateful for Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program: “Any time we can get the kids out there and knowing where their food comes from, it’s a good thing.”

Farm Cart 

Ready Springs has chosen to implement several aspects of the Farm to School program. There is a Garden Stand on site, selling local produce weekly in the Fall and plant starts for one day in the Spring on a donation basis. The proceeds from the sales of produce donated by the school’s farm partner, the Food Love Project, plus copious amounts of zucchini (and much-awaited figs!) contributed by school families help to fund the school garden and farm field trips.

Student with Farm Cart

3rd, 4th, and 6th graders visited the Food Love Project this past Fall, and got to harvest the end of the tomatoes. Food Love farmers Amanda Thibodeau and Katie Turner also visited Ready Springs, to plant seed pots and build a tipi for snap peas and beans with the after school program.

Ready Springs students were treated to a kale salad tasting this year as part of the program, where Food Corps Service Member Elizabeth Lane transformed kale from a blob of green that “smelled like pumpkin” to something that many kids ended up liking once they got over their initial suspicions.

Elizabeth with Taster

The most popular aspect of the program is the monthly Harvest of the Month tasting. The kids have become much more adventurous with tasting new things after being exposed to things like grapefruit and kiwi. Rosie was surprised how many kids tried and liked grapefruit: “I don’t like grapefruit or kiwi, and I’m embarrassed to say that my 8-year-old had never had either one until Harvest of the Month. Now we buy kiwis, because my child discovered that she really likes them, and learned that they have more vitamin C than an orange!”

For more information about Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program, visit the Farm to School Program page on our website.


Join us at these upcoming events!

April 28, 2014
Thanks to everyone who came out to our last volunteer day at the Food Love Project! There were many folks who couldn’t make it, so we want to let you know there are more upcoming opportunities to get involved!  
Whether you’re helping out at a spring volunteer day, getting plant starts for your own garden, coming on a field trip, or picnicking at our open house, there’s something coming up for everyone!  We hope you can make it out to the farm soon!

 Food Love plant sale

Get outside and help us get ready for a month of school field trips and summer camp!

Open volunteer days from 9AM till 12PM on:
Wednesday April 30th
Wednesday May 7th
Wednesday May 14th 

 Come dig beds, move compost, pull weeds and get your hands dirty with the fantastic farmers of Food Love!

All are welcome. 
What to Bring:
Water, a Hat, Sunscreen, Gloves  
If you want some Food Love in your own garden, we are selling certified organic veggie starts!
We’ll have tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, chard, kale, collards, lettuces, squash, flowers, strawberries and more!
You can pick them up at one of our volunteer days listed above, or drop by the farm after work or school on one of these upcoming Fridays:
Friday May 2nd 4PM-6PM
Friday May 9th 4PM-6PM
Friday May 16th 4PM-6PM
We’ll also be at the Parent’s Resource Guide’s Summer Camp Fair on Saturday May 3rd from 10AM to 2PM.
On Saturday May 10th, the Bear Yuba Land Trust presents the first “Family Picnic” at the Burton Homestead. Come learn about all the fantastic programs happening on this property! We will be offering tours of the Food Love Project and making paper pots and planting seeds for kids to take home!

The Food Love Project is located at 16200 Lake Vera Road, Nevada City at the Burton Homestead.

From Rt. 49, take N. Bloomfield up the hill and turn left onto Lake Vera-Purdon Rd. In less than two miles, you will see the Burton Homestead on the left-hand side of the road. Pull into the first opening to the parking lot (between two trees) and park in the gravel lot. The farm is located just past the far end of the parking lot.

Soup and Community

April 24, 2014

by Phil Turner

 At 4:45pm on April 3rd, a long list of soups was posted at the entrance to the serving room/bar at the Stone House in Nevada City. Many of those soups were just arriving, bringing with them the smells of chicken broth, celery, potatoes, beans, garlic and many other ingredients and spices. Sierra Harvest farmers Amanda and Katie hustled to set up tables, log the list of ingredients for each soup, pass out aprons to volunteer servers and lay out  literature talking about The Food Love Project  and Sierra Harvest. A few early arrivals milled around anticipating the setting of the first big soup pots on the serving table.

By 6:00pm, , nearly every seat at every table was taken, the soups were going so fast that Sierra Harvest staff and volunteers Aimee, Sandra, Katie, Amanda and others were beginning to worry. The cheerful noise of a community gathered around plates of soup and bread rose in the air to mix with the aromas lifted from the parade of pots and the bowls of hot soup carried gingerly through the congested space towards crowded tables.

This night recalled the first soup nights sponsored by Living Lands Network in the early days when making and sharing soup seemed a good way to bring people together over a meal. In those days, twenty or thirty people might appear with a potpourri of soups, bread and, sometimes, beer, wine and kids to accompany the meal.

Steadily, now predictably, over the five or so years since the first “soup night,” the numbers have grown – of attendees, of pots of soup, of encounters and conversations – from tens of people to hundreds of people.

People came on April 3rd to support Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Project, the educational farm that teaches local children and their families about local food. Most of the children who attended knew Farmer Amanda and Farmer Katie by name from visits to the Food Love Project farm. Others came because they were invited by friends or had been to other soup nights and remembered the delicious soup and warm company. Some came because they happened to walk by the Stone House, poked their heads in to ask what was happening, were encouraged to join in, and did so.

Some came, perhaps all came, because this was a community “thing.” Individuals and families who live in the surrounding towns enjoyed coming together, catching up, sharing a meal, connecting with other cheerful, friendly people. “Community,” in one of its liveliest forms, was happening at the Stone House that night.



Sierra Harvest Featured on the Food and Farm Show

April 15, 2014

Our Soup Night on April 3rd was an astounding success, packing the Stone House with fans of Sierra Harvest and good soup. Thanks to all of the chefs who generously donated such a delicious variety of soups, and special thanks to Nikko Wu and her wonderful staff at the StoneHouse, who helped us out when we ran out of soup!

The Food and Farm Show was filming at the event, and captured what makes our organization so special:



Sierra Gardens Program is Blooming!

March 26, 2014

sg2The Sierra Gardens program works with families and organizations to build backyard gardens, providing classes, mentoring, and supplies for two years to establish successful home-based gardens. We have built out two gardens so far: one for an individual residence in Alta Sierra, and one for the Friendship Club, a local community organization that is designed to engage, educate and empower at-risk girls.sg7

sg6This program is available to anyone in the community who has the space for a garden, but the trend so far has been heavily female. The Friendship Club garden will help the girls learn the important life skill of gardening, along with personal responsibility and the value of hard work. And the Alta Sierra garden will benefit a grandmother, her daughter, and three granddaughters, all of who participated in building out their garden. This season, these girls will learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare kale, chard, broccoli, cilantro, carrots, beets, and green onions. The first class for Sierra Gardens participants (an introduction to gardening and spring planting) also happened this week.sg1

We have eight more gardens pending, and are still accepting applications. Payment plans and partial or full scholarships are available. More information and applications are available on the Sierra Gardens program page.



Volunteer of the Month: Jacquie Weills

March 26, 2014

Sierra Harvest could not do all of the things we do without the help of our wonderful volunteers. I caught up with one of them, Jacquie Weills, in between all of her different projects, and got to know her a little better.

SH: How did you become interested in volunteering for Sierra Harvest?

Jacquie: I just love gardening and I like to be of service. If I’m going to be of service, I want to be working in the garden with children. I’ve always been a teacher, a class teacher, a handwork teacher, a garden teacher, a yoga teacher. One of the most important things we can teach children right now is to be with the earth, and to raise their own healthy, clean, organic food and know the difference. It’s important that they know that we have to take care of the earth, and it’s nice to see Sierra Harvest teaching that out there in the schools, because they don’t get that in general education. We need to teach our children life skills, not just head skills. Plus I love Malaika and Carlyle, what they’re doing is great. (Malaika and Carlyle are the co-executive director and office manager at Sierra Harvest.)

SH: What do you do as a volunteer for Sierra Harvest?

Jacquie: At the office, I’ve been putting things on the computer, entering survey information. I help Carlyle, the office manager – I’ll go pick up the fliers or run errands so that she can stay and work. I help my granddaughter’s class with the third grade garden at Yuba River Charter School as well.

SH: What do you like about the work you do for Sierra Harvest?

Jacquie: I’m a community-minded person – for me, it’s not all about having a job where you make money. We all need to pitch in with our time in areas we love. I love cooking, I love having good healthy food.  It’s really important to me that people know what they are eating.  Having children discover this at an early age is truly beneficial.

SH: How else do you support the local food movement in our community?

Jacquie: I volunteer at First Rain Farm – I help with the harvest, I cook lunch for all the people who are helping with the harvest. Everybody brings something, crème fraiche, bread, etc. I make the soup for them. I love it.

SH: What do you do when you are not volunteering for Sierra Harvest?

Jacquie: I work in the garden at BriarPatch, and I work in my own garden. I spend a lot of time with my grandchildren. I am doing some end of life care, two days a week. I also volunteer in my granddaughter’s hand work class every week, teaching crochet. I love kids, I’ve always worked with kids. They are our future, and we don’t pay enough attention to that.  Gandhi said: “If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children.” Teaching them to love the earth is a great place to begin.

 SH: Thank you, Jacquie, for doing all that you do!