History and Milestones

Our History

Sierra Harvest was formed in 2013 as the merger of Live Healthy Nevada County and Living Lands Agrarian Network, two dynamic young organizations with similar missions.

Farm Crew members at Sweet Roots Farm learning about transplanting.

Sierra Harvest partnered with Nevada Joint Union High School Food Services to create a new school lunch program for the Nevada City School District.  The program features meals cooked from scratch, fresh, regional ingredients, and reduced packaging and waste. We also launched the Farm Institute to train the next generation of farmers through FARM BIZ (farm business planning), FARM CREW (on-farm production skills) and LAND MATCH (access to farm land). 

Sustainable Food & Farm Conference (photo by Jarratt Moody)

Began organizing the annual Sustainable Food & Farm Conference with more than 500 attendees.  Organized the Nevada County Food Policy Council, where local food and farming organizations, businesses, and individuals are working together to set common goals for enhancing our food environment, human health and livelihoods locally and across the state.



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Food Love Farm Summer Camp

Sierra Harvest expands the Farm To School Program to serve 6,400 students and their families in Nevada County and bring together the local food and farming community. We have trained 30 young farmers, many of whom are farming and providing food for our community. We have built gardens for 30 low-income families so they can have direct access to fresh food right in their own backyard.


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Local family enjoys their new backyard garden!

Leo Chapman launched the Sierra Gardens program to provide support for people who wanted to learn how to grow food at home. Eighteen families, many of who are low income, now have thriving gardens and are learning how to provide for themselves and their neighbors. These families grew 2000 pounds of food this season and are planning meals around what is growing in their garden and improving their health by eating with the seasons.

In the fall 2014, an opportunity developed to work with the high school food services director to research a new food procurement model that would support local and regional fresh food purchases for school meals. Two salad bars were installed in schools improving fresh food access for many low income students participating in the national school lunch program.


Malaika & Aimee hired as Co-Directors of Live Healthy Nevada County in 2013

Aimee Retzler and Malaika Bishop become co-directors of Live Healthy.  Live Healthy partnered with Suzanne Grass, Director of Child Nutrition Services, to add quinoa and couscous to the school food menu and remove Gatorade from school vending machines. Local produce was added to school meals in conjunction with Harvest of the Month tastings.

The journeyman program includes 3 farmers, who begin running their new farming businesses in the Living Lands network of farms.

After many years of working collaboratively on common goals, Live Healthy Nevada County and Living Lands Agrarian Network combined their organizations to form Sierra Harvest.

Students at Deer Creek enjoy making lettuce wraps!

Students at Deer Creek enjoy making lettuce wraps!

The Farm to School program was in seven schools and had a full array of offerings reaching 3,600 students including produce stands, farm field trips, classroom visits by cooks, nutritionists and farmers, and Harvest of the Month tastings in 150 classrooms and at eight partner agencies. Their inaugural Tasting Week hosted 10 guest chefs conducting educational cooking classes in three schools.

Also in 2012, all Nevada County Superintendents signed on to support scratch cooking in Nevada County schools, and a Live Healthy formed a School Food committee.

Live Healthy received a $300,000 grant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the Farm to School program to 12 schools, 86% of the county’s elementary and middle school students.

Through Living Lands, the Food Love Project gets substantial grant funding to expand programming and infrastructure at the farm. The farm serves about 250 children a year.

Land Bank Farm - Harmony

Harmony Valley Farm, started on a local homeowner’s land in 2011, is still being farmed today

Living Lands implemented a “Land Bank” online, where community members with land to offer can connect with local farmers looking for a place to farm.

Food Love Project begins to host field trips and educational events for other local organizations, receives funding from Nevada County to expand services, and begins offering internships focusing specifically on farm and nutrition education.

Living Lands installs infrastructure for first animal-based farm in its network, Red Rocker Farm, providing local poultry and sheep to the community.

Amanda Thibodeau at Food Love Farm

Farmer Amanda starts the Food Love Project in 2010

The Farm to School program added two more schools as well as produce stands to support fresh food at schools and foster relationships with local farmers. They also began conversations with Grass Valley Child Nutrition Services to research a school meal model for all Western Nevada County K-8 schools that harkened back to the cooking practices of the past where meals were made from scratch every day.

By this time, the Living Lands network had over six acres of local farms, trained 18 young farmers, served over 100 children with farm to school programming, and hired a director, Rachel Berry, to manage fundraising, events, and a new membership program.

Farmer Amanda Thibodeau, Living Lands farm intern graduate, started The Food Love Project, a farm site dedicated exclusively to nutrition and farming education for our local youth. It continues to be a central community resource for our public, private, charter, and home-schools to engage in the joys and benefits of fresh grown food.


Farmer Willow shares seed saving techniques.

Farmer Willow shares seed saving techniques.

Living Lands’ cooperative farming model was refined to offer more comprehensive training and mentorship in sustainable agriculture through a diverse network of farmers and farms. When trainees were ready to begin their own independent farming business, Living Lands offered a “Journeyman” program, with access to land, infrastructure, and continued mentorship, as well as venues for farm sales to help them get a successful start.

Through Living Lands, Farmer Leo began working with the schools, offering Farm to School programming on the farm and in the classroom.

Live Healthy identified Hennessey Elementary as an ideal pilot program to start a Farm to School program; they transformed the school garden, began offering hands on nutrition education in partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension and took Summer school students on a field trip to Riverhill Farm.

Farmers as part of the Living Lands Agrarian Network

Live Healthy Nevada County was formed out the coalition’s Food and Nutrition working committee. Aimee Retzler becomes President and focuses efforts on launching a farm to school program and evaluating school meal programs.

Living Lands, through collaborations with local land-owners, two more farms – Willow Creek and Sun Rock – are added to the network. There are now 5 farms in the network.


Living Lands Crew

Tim Van Wagner, Willow Hein, Maise Ganz and Leo Chapman

Living Lands was formally developed by Leo Chapman and Tim Van Wagner, with a mission to create a collaborative model for succeeding in ecological farming. The model included shared resources and using private land owned by local landowners who welcomed the opportunity to host a sustainable farm.

The Nevada County Public Health Department held a community wellness summit and formed a coalition bringing together over 100 stakeholders countywide to address the growing obesity epidemic in the County. This group was the beginnings of Live Healthy Nevada County.

Farmer Leo begins Blue Bird Farm on a local landowners property, where he begins hosting farm potlucks to build community around food and farming. This is the beginnings of Living Lands Agrarian Network.