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Farmers Guild Meet-ups Support Young Farmers in Nevada County

August 26, 2014

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We recently posted about the need for more farm land in Nevada County, and more farmers to grow food on it. Sierra Harvest has taken another step to support young farmers by hosting Farmers Guild meet-ups in Nevada County. Founded by farmers for farmers, the Farmers Guild supports healthy food production by collectively striving toward the economic viability of agriculture as well as the social networks necessary to attract, cultivate and sustain a new generation ready to work the land. Farmers gather at regular meet-ups to share skills, tools and receive support from other farmers, and guild members are also eligible for farm learning opportunity scholarships. Nevada County is the newest of the eight California Farmers Guilds, which are all connected online through Farms Reach and through events that bring larger groups of farmers together.

In a previous post, Amie Fenwick of Boxcar Farm used the term “co-opetition” to describe the way farmers can work together, even as they all try and sell the same tomatoes to the same market at the same time. Part of the mission of the Farmers Guild is to foster this type of cooperation among small farmers, in order to help them be successful. When local farmers meet at Sierra Harvest’s Farmers Guild meetings, they talk and figure out ways to help each other – giving and asking for advice, borrowing, lending, or helping to fix a tractor, and coming together to help with harvesting, or even raising a barn. They also talk about larger issues –what it would take for Nevada County to raise 25% of our produce, for instance (We currently grow 2% of our produce locally.)

Farmers Guild founder Evan Wiig explains how today’s young farmers face different challenges than farmers from previous generations: “There is a new group of people who are getting into agriculture for their own motives (not because their father was a farmer). The networks that are required to be successful in agriculture are many, and a fifth-generation rancher has all of this – it’s passed down – but new farmers do not. We ended up creating the same kind of network through the Farmers Guild to provide support and a knowledge base – an incubator for agricultural entrepreneurs.” Evan’s observation that it’s not enough just to teach someone how to farm is an important one. In collaboration with the Farmers Guild, Sierra Harvest aims to create this kind of support and community for young farmers in Nevada County.

The impact of empowering small farmers to feed their communities reaches even further. By supporting small, local farmers and creating economically viable options for where we get our food, we are supporting people who have the best interest for our health and our planet in mind rather than investing in the bottom line of an industrialized, corporate food system. Economic viability is key to the success of small farms, where the pay is notoriously low, often well below poverty level.  By introducing our children to the people who grow our food, and educating our community about what a struggle it is to make a living as a farmer, Sierra Harvest hopes to encourage consumers to pay the higher prices that reflect the true cost of growing the food so that our local farmers can actually make a living.

 The Farmers Guild addresses the economic challenges of starting a farm – the CCOF has agreed to waive the initial organic certification fee for new farmers who are Farmers Guild members. A collaboration with FarmLink helps farmers to find land owners with agricultural land and negotiate win-win leases. Farmers Guild members also have access to training and scholarships for training.

Our local Farmers Guild will also connect with other California Farmers Guilds at larger gatherings, with the goal of amplifying and extending the voice of the small farmer. Brie Gerard, one of our interns, will represent the Nevada County Farmers Guild at these large Farmers Guild gatherings. Farmers interested in joining the Farmers Guild or attending a Farmers Guild potluck can contact Malaika Bishop for more information at malaika@sierraharvest.org or 530 265-2343.

 

 

 

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Meet Melynda Rainsbarger, Sierra Harvest’s Newest Staff Member

August 26, 2014

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Sierra Harvest has a new administrative support intern, for the next six months! Melynda Rainsbarger is working through the One-Stop Business & Career Center’s On-The-Job Training  program, which places job seekers in workplaces to get hands-on experience with practical job skills.

What kind of skills are you acquiring?

I’m learning how to do data entry and research. I research everything from fundraiser venues, to the Real Food Challenge, to how to make our website more effective.

Why did you want to work at Sierra Harvest?

I heard about Sierra Harvest through the garden stands at the schools, and it seemed like a great place for me because I want to learn to be healthy and eat properly. I grew up on a ranch – we had a lot of animals, I did FFA in high school, so I’ve always been around farming and ranching. Also, the staff is extremely nice.

How do you support local food in our community?

I pick vegetables at the U-pick at Food Love with my family, and I just received a $25 EBT credit to buy food at the farmers’ market, so I’m going to check out the farmers’ market.

What do you do when you are not at work?

I take care of my three wonderful children. Two of them are at Bell Hill – my Kindergartener last year was extremely excited about the salad bar and the garden stand. My youngest is in pre-school – she’s very independent, and a climber. We go to the playground, and we’re crafty. I like to paint, draw, and play video games with the kids. A few weeks ago we built a treehouse out of cardboard for the kids’ dolls. I also love to bake.

What will you do in January once this internship has ended?

I’ll look for a data entry or administrative job so that I can support my family, but I’d like to continue working for Sierra Harvest as a volunteer.

What is your favorite locally grown vegetable and how do you prepare it?

Lemon cucumbers and corn – I eat them right off the plant.

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FoodCorps Service Member Elizabeth Lane Returns for Another Year in the Field

August 26, 2014

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FoodCorps, a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy, has selected Nevada County as one of ten counties in California to benefit from the work of a Service Member for the second year in a row. FoodCorps Service Members are tasked with teaching hands-on lessons about food and nutrition, building and tending school gardens and teaching cooking lessons so kids can taste the fresh food they’ve grown, and working to change what’s on children’s lunch trays, giving them healthy food from local farms.

Elizabeth Lane brings a unique skill set and background to her role of Nevada County Food Service Member, a combination that won her an additional year of service here: “Because I grew up (in Nevada County), it was easy for me to connect with people – we already had something in common. That made it easier to build trust, to build relationships.” She is also an excellent listener and collaborator.

Elizabeth feels strongly about getting fresh fruits and vegetables into the mouths of kids who need it most, and empowering them to ensure a regular supply of fresh food by growing their own food. She speaks from experience: “After my parents divorced, we went from living in a place where we could grow our own food to subsisting on boxed, processed foods and rotten vegetables that we could get donated. I would get home to an almost bare cupboard and find a box of mac and cheese with weevils in it. If we were lucky, my mom would have pot of homemade chicken soup in the refrigerator. Poor people used to ensure access to food by growing their own food. With the shift to food banks and donated food, we have lost that approach and knowledge. That is why I am doing this work – to get that knowledge circulating again.”

She was able to share her knowledge of growing food with three different Nevada County schools last year, with kids ranging from age 4 to 18. At the Yuba River Charter School, Elizabeth worked with 3rd graders to build a garden at the current school site and ran field trips to the Woolman Semester School Farm.. She also taught 6th grade science classes in the garden at Seven Hills Middle School, but the work that she felt had the biggest impact on kids who don’t get enough to eat was the Garden/Culinary Arts class pilot at Silver Springs high school, which has the highest rate in the district of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (82%).  

The students at Silver Springs were wondering how they could improve the quality of food served in their school meals, and so Elizabeth started with an explanation of the National School Lunch program, and an overview of food systems (how the food we eat is grown and processed as it makes its way to our plates). She equipped students with information to make suggestions about what they would like to see in the cafeteria, and her class even prepared a snack (collard greens with bacon) for the whole school (and convinced the other kids to try it!). That snack not only won some new collard greens converts, it won over the food service staff member, chef Anita, who suggested collaborating with students on meal preparation for the next school year.

All Food Corps Service Members face obstacles, but some of the challenges that Elizabeth faced were particularly tricky. Originally hired to start the New Generation Educational Farm, a farm that would be shared by three schools, she was told a few weeks into the process that the farm would be indefinitely delayed. “Finding my place when my work plan needed to change so drastically, and setting new goals was definitely challenging, especially since I had some intense personal things going on at the same time.”  A focus on regular prioritizing, and time management (including time for self-care) got her through the year. “I asked my colleagues to call me out if I was eating lunch in front of the computer.”

Were the long hours and figuring out new paths around unexpected road blocks worth it? “Absolutely,” says Elizabeth. “It’s worth it when I see the impact on the kids. On one farm field trip, I overheard a first grader say to her friend: ‘This is the best morning ever!’ He friend corrected her: ‘This is the best SCHOOL morning ever.’ But the first child countered with: ‘NO, this is the best morning ever including weekends.’ Connecting kids with food in such a positive way makes it all worth it.”

This year her focus will be on building upon the foundation she laid last year to develop K-8 curriculum for the New Generation Educational Farm, starting with Yuba River Charter School, and reaching out to teachers and students at Scotten and Lyman Gilmore to find out how the farm can best serve their needs through farm field trips and classroom garden and nutrition education. She’ll also be helping those Silver Springs kids realize their vision for more fresh foods in their school lunches. Elizabeth will be supporting NJUHSD Food Service Director Theresa Ruiz, who oversees meals at Silver Springs, in her efforts to bring local foods into the school meal programs for the entire district, as well as supporting the new horticulture teacher at Silver Springs in a 2-period, for-credit food and gardening class that builds upon the curriculum Elizabeth used.

Elizabeth will face challenges of a different sort this year, such as deciding what she wants her students to call her after September 7th, when she will marry Cale Brandley (“Farmer Elizabeth? Ms.Brandley? Ms. Lane?”).  Elizabeth is confident that she can navigate whatever new experiences this year will bring, and is looking forward to another year with FoodCorps in Nevada County.

 

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The Future of Food

August 18, 2014

Sierra Harvest’s vision for the future of Nevada County food includes a network of financially viable farms providing good food for the community, where health and wellness is the norm and people are engaged in growing, harvesting, preparing, and sharing fresh food. If you read The Union this weekend, you might have seen USA Weekend’s take on their vision of the future of America’s food. We are including a link to it here for those of you who missed it, because it is right in line with Sierra Harvest’s vision for a thriving local food economy where residents of all ages have access to nutritious, local, seasonal food through strong connections among farmers, schools, and the community.  Maybe it’s closer than we think! Apologies for the annoying commercial that pops up when you visit the page — it’s still a worthwhile read:

1407946783000-Fresh-FoodRead The Future of Food: How Our Eating Habits Will Change

by Hadley Malcolm

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Building Community, One Potluck at a Time

July 28, 2014

Riverhill Farm, where Sierra Harvest hosted our July 17th potluck, has to be one of the most spectacular locations for a communal feast. Visitors drive in past postcard-perfect fields of kale and tomatoes, and then walk through a tunnel of plum trees so heavy with fruit that their boughs are bent and sometimes broken with the burden of so many plump, juicy, ripe plums. By the time people make their way up the final path, humming with bees buzzing around the enormous purple lavender bushes, to the potluck tables, they can’t help but feel grateful for all that our local farms have to offer.

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My kids and I arrived on the later side on the 17th, and found long tables already laden with the bounty of the season. The variety of dishes at a Sierra Harvest potluck never fails to surprise me. A few highlights from the 17th included roasted beets, watermelon salad with mint, home-made sauerkraut, multi-bean salad, home-made kombucha, smoked salmon, the ubiquitous zucchini (dressed up for the occasion with basil, butter, and pine nuts), and even a gluten-free pesto pasta alfredo provided by none other than the extremely talented chefs at The Fix for Foodies!

potluck3The people are just as varied – grandparents, children, farmers and farm interns, chefs, professional business people – farm-fresh food lovers all. When Sierra Harvest (then Living Lands) started hosting potlucks eight years ago in 2006, we were interested in putting faces with the food – introducing farmers and their customers in a way that went deeper than the weekly farmer’s market exchange. “Farming is not just about our relationship to the land, it is also about our relationship to the community,” explains farmer Leo Chapman, one of the founders of Living Lands who currently serves as the coordinator of the Sierra Gardens program. Co-director Malaika Bishop agrees: “Many of the problems that we see with food today are a result of not really understanding where our food comes from. We want to make it personal – one of our goals is for every child in Nevada County to be able to name a local farmer.”

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Potluck attendee Ivy appreciates the fact that the potlucks take place on local farms: “It’s interesting to see how these farms are functioning and have a more intimate connection with the people that are growing the food, and eating real, home-made country food out in the country is just great.” Potluck guest Valerie also enjoys the farm locations: “Seeing the farms and meeting the farmers is a really special experience. My daughter is able to run around with kids on the farm and get that ‘farm’ experience.”

Potlucks take place on a different local farm each first and third Thursday of the month from 6-8pm through October. A full schedule can be found on the Sierra Harvest website.  There is no charge to attend, and no need to RSVP. For more information call (530) 265-2343.

What to bring:

  • Utensils, a plate and cup for yourself/selves
  • A bountiful dish to share (it’s nice to include a label with key ingredients for those with allergies)
  • A blanket to sit on
  • A healthy appetite

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Fun on the Farm at the Food Love Project Summer Camp!

July 28, 2014

      Despite weather challenges of 100+-degree heat one week and rain the next, two lucky groups of children were immersed in an in-depth farm experience at Food Love Camp this summer, learning how to do farm chores like watering, harvesting, making bouquets, and feeding chickens, and learning a whole lot about where their food comes from in the process.  They eased into the week, learning about seeds through arts and crafts projects, familiarizing themselves with the different edible and medicinal plants that grow on the Burton Homestead where the Food Love Project Farm is located, and getting up close and personal with worms, chickens, and even a goat.

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But by the end of the week, campers had designed their own farms and were hosting their own booths at a mock farmer’s market! The week culminated in a farm-fresh feast of spring rolls and massage kale salad that the kids harvested, prepared, and shared with each other.

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It wasn’t all hard work – there was plenty of singing, water play, and games which utilized the popular “rainbow wheel”, built by Sierra Harvest volunteer Jim Hurley. Food Love intern Gracie Schatz helped keep the fun factor high by summarizing each day in a Food Love rap that she performed for the kids, who responded with beat boxing and break dancing.

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The mock farmer’s market was one of the most popular activities. Farm Manager Katie Turner was thrilled that the kids made the real-life connection: “We did mock farmers market, and then told them we would be working the real farmers market. Almost a third of the kids showed up on Saturday and were very comfortable helping out behind the stand!”

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“Pickles” the high school helper (aka Sarah Goodnow) contributed to the fun by making friendship bracelets with the kids and supplying an awesome soundtrack from her iPod for the water games. Pickles was so popular that two returning campers gave themselves camp names of “Little Pickle” and “Dill Pickle” after their beloved camp helper. Farmer Amanda is thrilled to see the same kids returning for a second year: “We know we are successful when we have kids return – it feels good that they want to keep coming back.”

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Female Farmers Stock Market Booth With Surprisingly Local Produce

July 28, 2014

Have you stopped by Sierra Harvest’s friendly farmer’s market booth at the Saturday morning Nevada City Farmer’s Market? Ever wonder where all that beautiful produce comes from and who grows it?

In addition to getting the word out about Sierra Harvest, the main purpose of the booth is to educate our interns about how the market works and to give them hands-on training with a production style garden. Early in the season, Katie Turner, Farm Manager for the market garden and the Food Love Project, plans what to grow and when it will be ready. Katie and the interns, Brie Gerard and Gracie Schatz, start the plants, prep the beds, maintain the garden, harvest, and work the market, which entails getting up really early on Saturday mornings to harvest, wash, and transport the goods to market.

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Most of the produce comes from the Lost Hill farm site on American Hill Road, which is a small homestead where Sierra Harvest’s interns live, only a few blocks from the Farmer’s Market. The site has been used as a garden and homestead for a long time, and it features many heirloom fruit trees, including chestnut, walnut, almond, fig, and apple trees. Look for figs and apples from these heirloom trees at the market in the late Summer and early Fall. The new fruit trees at the site (cherries, nectarines, plums, pears, and more apples) will take a few years to produce. All of the produce from Lost Hill is certified organic by CCOF.

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In August at the Sierra Harvest booth, you’ll be able to pick up Padron and Shishito peppers (the former is a traditional tapas menu item in Spain, excellent pan fried with olive oil and sprinkled with salt). You’ll also find beautiful heirloom tomatoes in all different colors — purple, red, orange, yellow, and green. We’ll still have arugula, cucumbers, head lettuce, and micro greens (from the Food Love Project Farm), a super food that has a high density of cancer-fighting nutrients. And, we will be featuring dried flower bouquets to brighten your house in the winter months.  Fresh sunflowers will also be available.

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Katie enjoys working the Nevada City Farmers’ Market, despite the early morning and hard work: “It’s such a nice, community-oriented activity, and it’s great seeing the happy people who eat the vegetables that we have so lovingly grown.” So stop by and say hello to Katie, Brie, and Gracie this Saturday morning between 8:30am and 1:00pm (and check out those Padron peppers while you’re there!).

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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.

sugary_truthIt 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.

 

 

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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 info@sierraharvest.org. If you have land you want farmed, you can e-mail us or upload information about your site to our online Land Bank.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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