The Best Part of Being an Organic Farm

It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to make someone’s day.  I just told Sandra Higareda of Higareda Family Farm that there is a gorgeous, new photo of her husband, Paco, and her father-in-law up on the wall of the BriarPatch Food Coop.  You should have heard the whoop on the other end of the line!  “We’re on the wall?! Yahooooo!  We made it!” 

I told Sandra the news in the midst of a conversation we were having about why she and Paco decided to certify their farm organic.  If you take a look at the remaining classes in the Sierra Harvest Ag Skills course, it becomes very clear that the farmers who grow our food need to master an enormous skill set.  When there are so many things to accomplish in a day and so many roles to play- from director of marketing to CFO and soil scientist to HR manager –  it is no wonder that many farmers decide not to go through with certification.  Although intimidated by the process, Sandra and Paco decided to certify organic in order to continue and grow their sales to the BriarPatch.  The BriarPatch is committed to being an all organic produce department and, while they give their local growers a lot of leeway, they also push those growers to eventually certify organic.  

Sandra and Paco were inspired by the other growers who they saw selling regularly to the BriarPatch and had taken the leap to becoming certified Organic.  As Sandra puts it, “We realized that [those other local farmers] were just regular people like us.  If they could do it, so could we.”  With the help of Sierra Harvest, Higareda Family Farm earned their Organic certification last season and haven’t looked back! 

When asked what was the best part of being organic, Sandra responded, “It makes us feel that we can offer the hard work of our farm in a way that people recognize and value.  It’s an accomplishment that says a lot about our farm.”  After learning that she was “on the wall” at BriarPatch, she changed her answer slightly, “Being on the wall – that’s the best part of being an organic farm!  I can’t wait to tell Paco, he’s not going to believe it!”

Written by Molly Nakahara
Director, Sierra Harvest Farm Institute

Foothills Fresh Wins Innovation Award from Center for Ecoliteracy

CEL Innovation Award Winner

On June 28, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden (far right), Nevada City School District interim Superintendent Monica Daugherty (second from right), and Sierra Harvest Co-director Aimee Retzler (far left) accepted an Innovation Award for their collaborative efforts in launching the Foothills Fresh School Lunch program in 2017.

The Foothills Fresh School Lunch Program is a partnership amongst the two school districts and Sierra Harvest to provide a healthy, scratch-cooked meal for K-8th grade students featuring minimal packaging and fresh ingredients. Meals are prepared in the Nevada Union High School kitchen each morning and delivered daily in hotel pans. Since the start of the program, participation in the lunch program at Nevada City School District has doubled and both districts have increased revenue to reinvest in healthy dining options. 

The award was given at the Center for Ecoliteracy’s statewide conference: Cultivating Healthy and Sustainable School Communities. School Districts and agencies from across California gathered in Oakland to learn and share practical innovative strategies for increasing access to healthier food in schools. 

While representatives from Nevada County attended the conference to bring fresh ideas home with them, they were also asked to present on successful school food strategies being implemented in Nevada County. NJUHSD Superintendent Brett McFadden was invited to take part on a panel of unique stakeholders discussing how they support Farm to School in their respective roles. McFadden advised conference participants to stay in it for the long haul.  Changing a national school lunch program isn’t done overnight and for him, nutritious meals are part of a school’s overall strategy to ensure and sustain an effective learning environment for students.

During the Good Food Showcase presented by the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), Sierra Harvest Procurement Specialist, Lauren Scott, demonstrated a Tasting Day recipe from the guest chef in schools program that Sierra Harvest has been operating since 2011. Conference participants had the opportunity to create a ‘Taco Tuesday in a Jar’ using a recipe from the 2018 Tasting Week Recipe Book.   It’s the perfect time of year for this type of recipe as we enjoy the bounty of our local farms here in Nevada County.

Welcome Sierra Harvest’s Newest Team Members!

Sierra Harvest is pleased to welcome 2 new staffers to the team –
Carla Rosin and Sophie Larsen!

Carla Rosin is the new Sustainable Food and Farm Conference Producer.   Bringing a background in activism and organizing for the past 15 years, Rosin has lots of great experience in the sustainable food movement. Combining a strong passion and incredible connections, Carla is sure to bring the conference to the next level!
As part of the planning and diversity advisory committees for the EcoFarm Conference and in her role as the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market director, Rosin has her finger on the pulse of what farmer’s are interested in,and is sure to bring new energy and inspiration to the next Sustainable Food and Farm Conference. Carla is based in Santa Cruz, but you can find her here on a regular basis, working with the Sierra Harvest staff and enjoying all the foothills have to offer.
Carla Rosen, right, with author of City Chicks Patricia Forman

Our second new staff member is Sophie Larsen, Food Love Educator. With a background working at a farm and education center in Southern Oregon, Larsen brings passion, experience, and enthusiasm to the Food Love crew. She’s really excited to be a part of a farm whose focus goes beyond growing food, and is inspired by the mission of Sierra Harvest to do this work. Larsen is looking forward to teaching children at summer camp and field trips, and loves sharing the beauty of the farm with this community! A transplant from Santa Cruz, Sophie is also working at Starbright Acres Family Farm and you can find her there the rest of the time that she’s not at Food Love.

Helping Farmers Go Organic

In 2017, Sandra Higareda of Higareda Family Farms was a farmer in need of a little support.  You’ve probably picked up a beautiful bunch of her cilantro or basil at the BriarPatch Food Coop.   You know the stuff- glistening with dewdrops, so fragrant you can’t help but take a big whiff before it goes into your cart.  Sandra knows how to grow good food, that’s for sure.  But owning and operating a farm business demands a litany of skillsets other than crop production-  book-keeper, accountant, CFO, HR manager, office administrator, and director of marketing, just to name a few. 

Sandra was one of the farmers who jumped at the chance to attend the EcoFarm Conference on a full scholarship from the BriarPatch Food Coop.  Her experience at the conference inspired her to take her farm business more seriously and she set a goal to certify her farm Organic.   She knew it would make her farm products more competitive and would secure a higher price in the marketplace, but the paperwork, cost, and process felt out of reach.  In her own words, Sandra said I was petrified of the process of filling out the application. I saw it to be so daunting.”

Here’s where Sierra Harvest’s Farm Institute comes in. Continue reading “Helping Farmers Go Organic”

Sierra Gardens Are Thriving, Thanks to Our Volunteer Garden Builders

Children delight in the backyard garden at the Love Joy Playschool, sponsored by Sierra Harvest | Lenkaland Photography

Sierra Harvest believes that a tomato that travels a few feet from your backyard to your kitchen tastes better than one that was shipped in a truck from hundreds of miles away. We also believe that everybody should have access to delicious, fresh, locally grown food. But not everyone has the knowledge to grow their own food, or the money to get a vegetable garden started.

Continue reading “Sierra Gardens Are Thriving, Thanks to Our Volunteer Garden Builders”

Watch our Latest Video – “Eating for Change”

Watch how our work makes real change in people’s lives – from Wyatt, who thought he’d never eat vegetables; to Drew, following his dream to grow wholesome food for his community; to Deb, whose vegetable garden at home has transformed the way her family eats on a tight budget.

It’s a great way to learn about our work and to share it with others!

Win a Redwood Greenhouse from Peaceful Valley!

th-1What could YOU do with your very own greenhouse?
Peaceful Valley is raffling off a beautiful 6×8 redwood greenhouse, with all proceeds going to Sierra Harvest! You can check out the greenhouse the Peaceful Valley website.  Retail value is $1,698.00.

 PV 40th posterRaffle tickets are $5 each or 5 for $20.  You must buy them in person at Peaceful Valley or our Sierra Harvest office.  Happy 40th Birthday to Peaceful Valley! They are a strong supporter of our work in the community and we are grateful for their commitment to local food!  You can join them on May 7th for their anniversary party with 70’s music, costumes and food.  The lucky winner of the redwood greenhouse will be drawn at the end of May, no need to be present to win.

Grass Valley Seniors Get Access to Fresh Fruits, Veggies with New Garden

Sierra Gardens at Nevada MeadowsFrom The Union, April 3, 2016.

 Residents of Grass Valley’s Nevada Meadows senior apartment community will soon have increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables, thanks to a new garden right in the affordable housing complex’s backyard.

The 100-square-foot garden is a collaboration between the Nevada County Department of Public Health, Sierra Harvest and residents of the apartment complex. Members of those groups were joined by other volunteers, including the Gold Country Kiwanis and members of the key clubs at Nevada Union and Ghidotti Early College high schools on Saturday to build raised beds to help bring the garden to life.

The garden at Nevada Meadows has been a few years in the making, said Shaun Havard, community liason with the county’s public health department. The idea first came up among seniors at the complex when the department of public health, through its Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention program, was offering cooking and nutrition classes at Nevada Meadows.

“As part of those classes, they began a conversation about how to get more fresh fruits and veggies into their diets,” Havard said.

IMG_6819Eventually, Havard was able to get permission from the apartment’s manager and owner to permit the garden.

That’s where Sierra Harvest came in. One of the programs offered by the Nevada City-based nonprofit is Sierra Gardens, in which the organization helps families build a backyard garden, and provides two years’ worth of supplies and mentoring to ensure the garden is successful.

Sierra Harvest designed the garden beds, Havard said, and will be working with Nevada Meadows residents to help them learn how to take care of the garden.

Nevada Meadows resident Donna Taylor said seniors at the complex are looking forward to getting the garden underway.

“Just to have it out there, and sit and chit chat and watch the garden, it will be fun,” Taylor said. “I’m excited.”

The garden won’t just provide residents with increased opportunities to be outside or to work together on a project, Havard said; it will also give them a simple way to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets on a more consistent basis.

“It’s an amazing thing to see people wanting to grow their own food in an urban, or somewhat urban environment,” Havard said. “When people see that it can be done and that there’s assistance in the community to do that, more people will do it.”


Want one of these gardens in your backyard? Find out more about our Sierra Gardens Program.

Sustainable Food & Farm Conference Inspires, Empowers & Connects!

“Events like this help remind and inform us what is going on in the wider world, inspiring new ideas and projects.”

“It has made me feel that it is possible to make a living in farming – which I was very much doubting before the event.”

“I have not been very successful as a gardener up till now but I am INSPIRED!!!” Continue reading “Sustainable Food & Farm Conference Inspires, Empowers & Connects!”

Harvest of the Month: Microgreens!

microgreensI once told a friend that I was growing microgreens and he said to me, “I bet no one wants to try those- they are everything Americans hate- small and green.” He recommended we go with a serious re-branding if we wanted to have any success. Something in the vein of “Power Snacks” or “Super Fuel.” Even though he was being sarcastic, I could see where he was coming from.  “Power Snacks” does have a certain ring to it! Up until a few years ago, I had never even heard of a microgreen, let alone grown them to sell. So, what are they? Why are they so small? And why should we care? Thanks to Sierra Harvest, 6,500 local students can tell you exactly what microgreens are, and how tasty and nutritious they can be. As part of January’s Harvest of the Month program, students sampled sunflower greens and pea shoots from the Natural Trading Company. Continue reading “Harvest of the Month: Microgreens!”