Kalita’s Favorite Crop to Grow? Farmers

farm crew 2018
Kalita Todd and Farm Crew 2017 participants learn about greenhouse management with Robbie Martin at Sweet Roots Farm.

After almost 3 years spent building a program to grow and support farmers in Nevada County, Kalita Todd, Sierra Harvest’s Education Coordinator, is transitioning to focus on her work as a health practitioner.  Kalita has worked as an organic farmer, educator, activist and change-maker for over 40 years.  From the founding of EcoFarm and the Hoes Down Harvest Festival to starting one of the first school gardens in Nevada County, Kalita has made a deep and lasting impact on the good food movement. 

When asked what her favorite crop to grow is, Kalita always responds, “Farmers!”   While working with Sierra Harvest, Kalita created and implemented the Farm Crew program, recruiting beginning farmers and connecting them with jobs on mentor farms in Nevada County.   She supported host farms and employees to have positive, productive relationships.  With Kalita’s facilitation, Farm Crew members set and accomplished learning targets while working on host farms, making the most of their early experiences in agriculture.

An enormous component of the Farm Crew program is the Ag Skills course.  Curated by Kalita, Ag Skills highlights innovative and successful farming practices in Nevada County and gives aspiring farmers a jump-start into agriculture.  During Kalita’s tenure, over 100 beginning farmers attended Ag Skills classes, representing over 1000 hours of direct education.

A beginning farmer who participated in the Farm Crew program said this about her experience in the Farm Crew program:

 “Joining Farm Crew has been a joyful and impactful chapter in my life where I was given the opportunity to dig deeper into sustainable agriculture, my local farming community and my personal relationship to the earth. I was given the information, tricks and tools to expand my knowledge base about market farming. My vision for what is possible has expanded! Now I have the skills, confidence and support to continue farming.”

In addition to her deep and lasting work in the organic food movement, Kalita is also a skilled and experienced healer.  An ordained Priestess of Isis, Spiritual Counselor, Hypnotherapist, and practitioner of Alchemical Healing for 25 years, Kalita has great skill in opening the path into the magic, mystery, and practical contemporary uses of ancient healing arts.  We look forward to celebrating and collaborating with Kalita as she focuses on this work.

Thank you Kalita, for all you have done to grow farmers in our community!  We will miss your joyful and capable presence at Sierra Harvest.

Thank you, Farmer Bri!

After serving five years in various roles at the Food Love Farm, Brianna Abundiz will be moving on to new endeavors in local agriculture that will continue to motivate people to enjoy fresh, seasonal foods.  Farmer Bri was first inspired to get her hands dirty when she accompanied her son on a farm field trip at Dinner Bell Farm in 2014.  She joined the Food Love Farm crew as an intern in the spring of 2015 and then added a role as a Farm to School Liaison that fall.  Continuing to develop both her farming and teaching skills, she became a Farm Educator at the Food Love Farm in the spring of 2016, where she has spent 4 seasons leading field trips, selling produce at weekly U-Picks, and cooking with kids at summer camps.  Brianna says that her favorite part of her role at the Food Love Farm has been meeting and building a relationship with her community.  Brianna is responsible for implementing a robust garden program at Lyman Gilmore school and she has introduced hundreds of kids to the joys of growing food.  Brianna’s goal for the future is to continue to inspire future farmers and kids!  Sierra Harvest and our community thank Farmer Bri for all of the time, energy, and love she has put into her many roles and we look forward to her future accomplishments in the local food movement! 

Eat Well, Learn Better

Dre Maher at Nevada City School of the Arts new  Food Services DirectorNourish NCSA, the Nevada City School of the Art’s (NCSA) new scratch cooked school meals program kicked off this year with the motto, “Eat well, learn better.”  Dre Maher is the Food Service Coordinator who manages to feed 200 students each day of the school year with fresh, locally grown food.

While Dre was hired at NCSA last April, it took a while to get the kitchen certified and ready for the lunch program which went live this year.  She said, “Everything is from scratch everyday which is pretty unique in the school food service industry.  Every morning I do all of the cooking and then I have an assistant who comes in and helps me pack and wash everything at the end of the day.”

Maher has a lifelong love of making fresh, healthy meals and worked at a food co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  In 2000, she lost a loved one to cancer.  “That had a big impact on me,” Maher said.  “I decided I wanted to be a chef but with a focus on whole food and nutrition.”  That decision took her to the Natural Gourmet Cooking Institute in New York City where she graduated before returning to Albuquerque to start a family. 

There, she started her business as a caterer and as a personal chef teaching people how to shop and cook fresh meals.  Along the way she also became a farmer, learning more about how to grow her own food.  Her husband was hired to run the Briarpatch Food Co-op which brought her to Nevada County. 

Maher was introduced to Sierra Harvest working as a farm to school liaison, which lead her to the role she has today.  She said she was doing tastings of fresh produce items once a month with area students and then started doing tasting days as one of the chefs.  “That was great,” Maher said.  “The kids here have known me for the past seven years as someone who is going to try to get them to try new things.” 

Maher said she has relationships with a dozen local farms.  “Every carrot these kids have ever eaten here is from Super Tuber Farm.  Our food waste goes to feed pigs at Cosmic Roots Ranch where we buy our bacon, so it comes back around.”  She plans a four-week menu cycle and can change ingredients in the dish based on what is available and is at the Farmer’s Market weekly.

Sierra Harvest has built a culture of why it is important to eat fresh and teaches kids fun facts about produce and introducing them to new foods.  As the Nourish NCSA program got underway, Sierra Harvest offered Maher a tremendous amount of support in helping her find great values from local farms and helping her with proper reporting for reimbursements. 

Maher said even the so called “picky eater” will try what she offers.  “Maybe it’s peer pressure or maybe it’s because they have never had it fresh before or never had it prepared a certain way before, but they will taste it a few times and usually like it.”  She said she receives a lot of “thank you’” from students and has received notes from parents saying the lunch may be the most nutritious meal their child will eat all day.

The program also ties nicely with NCSA’s curriculum, including watershed studies and trips to the Yuba River to study the salmon runs.  Maher said, “This is why it matters.  The kids will understand the connection and why we farm this way.   Hopefully, these kids will grow up and value these choices as adults.” 

With a lead-in from Sierra Harvest, Nourish NCSA is making an impact on future generations, 200 kids at a time. 

Garden Cart Inspires Kids to Love Local Veggies

kids enjoying the farm cart at bell hill school 2019Imagine recess on a typical elementary school day, and you will likely picture kids making a beeline to the playground to vie for their favorite swing, slide, or tetherball. Not so on Tuesday mornings this Fall at Bell Hill Academy. Instead students eagerly lined up to select a vegetable from the Sierra Harvest garden cart. At times the line was more than 20 students long, yet they stood patiently- sometimes on tiptoes or craning their necks to see what was available and what they might choose from the selection of peppers, tomatoes, ground cherries, greens, and more.

One second grader picked a shishito pepper and insisted he would love the heat as he took his first bite.

A third grader exclaimed “I’m eating a pickle without a jar!” as she waved around the pickling cucumber she’d picked as a perfect snack.

The veggies were provided through a partnership with Starbright Acres Family Farm, a 3-acre local family farm just 2.5 miles from Bell Hill. In addition, two classes each year take a field trip out to Starbright Acres to see first-hand where their food is coming from. These activities combine with other elements of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program with a goal to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County students to fresh, local, seasonal food.

Recess is over but that doesn’t stop a few remaining students from lingering around the cart hoping to grab one last veggie before heading back to class. A parent visiting campus marvels at the selection of veggies her son has just enjoyed. Tomorrow recess will be back to the regular routine, but hopefully the fun of the garden cart today has sparked more kids to enjoy and seek out healthy, local food.

lauren valentino handing out veggies at the farm cart at bell hill school 2019

Vital Garden Supply a Strong Sierra Harvest Supporter

brian and pedma malin of vital - supporters of Sierra HarvestFor 14 years, Vital Garden Supply has been providing organic farm, garden, and landscaping products in Nevada County and beyond.   With a passion for the organic agriculture as well as a desire to have high quality food available to everyone, the company is also a long-time supporter of Sierra Harvest.

Brian Malin and his wife, Pedma, started the family business and are proud to support Sierra Harvest and appreciative of everything they do.  “Kids can learn at a young age the importance of high-quality food and about growing your own food as well.” Malin said.   With two kids who have gone through the Nevada County school system it was easy to offer support to help with the mission of Sierra Harvest and they have done so since the early days of the nonprofit.   “We are just proud to be part of Sierra Harvest,” Malin continued.  “I was at Food Love educational farm with my son’s class when they were just getting started.  We donated a compost tea brewer, I gave a talk to the kids, and I worked with farmers who were there at the time.  My son just turned 21, so it has been quite a while.” 

By supplying organic soil, fertilizer and amendments, Vital Garden Supply is part of the team that helps keep local gardens thriving.

Back in 2006, the desire for high-quality, organic products was on the rise.  Malin and his family were not satisfied with what products were available to farmers and gardeners, so they began making their own — manufacturing approximately 20 unique products and then opening a retail location in Nevada City.

In addition to offering organic inputs, Vital Garden Supply has a knowledgeable staff with plenty of gardening experience to help even the novice gardener get off to the right start.  Malin said the best reward is seeing other farmers’ success after using Vital Garden Supply products.

Pedma also serves as an ambassador with Sierra Harvest.  They are an active part of the organization and believe strongly in the mission.  Malin added he is proud to be part of a local nonprofit that educates people about organic and high-quality food and growing your own.  “I think that is really important in our modern society with all of this tech stuff going on, it’s good to have kids connect with where their food comes from and teach them a little bit about how to do it themselves.”

Now located in Ukiah and Wheatland as well as Nevada City, they sell to over 250 stores.  They carry soil and amendments, inoculants and teas, fertilizers, pest controls, green houses, and even apparel.  Their expert staff is happy to help prescribe the right mix for each unique situation and location. 

Their commitment to Sierra Harvest is just one of the many ways they are helping people grow safe, healthy food.  Thank you to the three generations of the Malin family that now make up Vital Garden Supply.  With their help, we can feel confident our future is in good hands.  



Sierra Harvest Board Welcomes Three New Faces

Anyone who works in the world of nonprofit will tell you there is nothing more essential than a strong Board of Directors.  At Sierra Harvest we are extremely proud of the group of talented and resourceful community leaders who steer our business.  We are excited to welcome three new members to our team — each bringing their unique history and talent to help move Sierra Harvest forward with our mission.

shari elia - sierra harvest board member 2019Shari Elia is relatively new to Nevada County, having moved here about four years ago.  Having a personal passion for eating healthy and living healthy and for sharing the knowledge she has gained in helping others do the same, Sierra Harvest seemed to be a good place to put her energy in giving back to the community.   In addition, she said, “Sierra Harvest is well and widely known among nonprofits as an extremely well-run organization and board.”  As this is her first time serving on a nonprofit board, she wanted to be sure she started out with a strong organization so she could learn to be an effective board member from the best.  Elia brings her experiences from an extensive career in high tech and sales to the organization.  Energizing teams around the vision is one of her many strengths and her experience in the execution of steps to complete projects is part of what she hopes to bring to the board.  Elia added she is so impressed with the mission and the people who work for the organization and excited to be part of it.

roger ingram - sierra harvest board member 2019Roger Ingram has lived in Nevada County since 1986.  He retired from the UC Cooperative Extension Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor and County Director for Placer and Nevada Counties in 2017 but has been actively involved in the agricultural community for decades.  He currently runs sheep with a partner and has moved from helping in an ex officio manner among the many agriculturally based nonprofits, to sitting on the Sierra Harvest Board of Directors.   Ingram’s history with the group goes back to the earliest days (before there was a Sierra Harvest) to when Aimee Retzler needed some financial help rehabilitating the school garden at what was then Hennessey School.  His work kept him involved with training beginning farmers and ranchers and he has spoken at Sierra Harvest’s Sustainable Food and Farm Conference.  He is looking forward to providing his experience within the agricultural community to give some input into Sierra Harvest as it looks for answers to some big questions around growth and scale.  Ingram said, “There are lots of exciting programs going on and I am excited to be part of the board.” 

laura barhydt - sierra harvest board memberLaura Barhydt proudly sits as the matriarch of three generations of her Nevada County family.  The Barhydt have raised beef cattle for decades and currently run the McCourtney Road Pumpkin Patch.  Laura said she has long admired Sierra Harvest and jumped at the chance to be part of an “organization that does such good work.”  She said she sees the difference Sierra Harvest is making, especially seeing children actually eating vegetables!  Her hope is to see Sierra Harvest and other agricultural groups working more closely together to find ways to keep agriculture alive in Nevada County.  Her connections to some of those other agencies will be helpful in making that happen.  She also hopes to introduce Sierra Harvest to more farmers and groups in the South County.   All along she has been very involved in getting healthy food to schools, so Sierra Harvest seems to be a perfect fit.  A retired educator, her experience brings a welcome, vast skillset to the board of directors.

Get a Headstart with a Garden

sierra college day care center children feed their dinasours fresh greens 2019
Feeding their dinosaurs some fresh greens!

Gardening made so easy, a toddler can do it.  That is a realized goal after the Sierra Gardens Program was introduced to the Child Development Center at Sierra College.  Site Supervisor, Katie Foss said, the state-run pre-school and early Head Start program currently cares for 44 children from ages 18 months to 4 years old in their toddler and pre-school program.  It was a parent of one of those toddlers who told her about the Sierra Harvest Garden Program.  “She said, you should sign up and get beds put in the toddler yard,” Foss explained.  “So I thought that sounded really cool and inquired about it.” 

Foss said the process was simple.  After filling out the initial paperwork, she was contacted by the Sierra Harvest Garden Coordinator, Edy Cassell, to determine the space, cost, and need, and then to schedule a time for the team to come out and build the beds.  “They brought tools and the wood and built the beds in the yard, “Foss said.  “We were inside so the kids could watch from the windows.  Once the soil was delivered, the kids were able to scoop it into the beds.”   Foss said Sierra Harvest supplies organic, locally grown starts and seeds for two years based on the season.  “The team from Sierra Harvest showed the kids how to put the starts in the soil and let the kids take turns planting.  The kids water the plants and the teachers fill in.”  She added the kids love taking on the responsibility of caring for the garden at the school.

She added, “The kids love to use water cans and buckets to keep the soil wet – even some of the toddlers are interested in helping.  We have been able to explain how the garden works and once the vegetables are ready to harvest, we let the kids pick what they want.  They especially love picking the little tomatoes.”

Supplying the children with fresh produce and introducing them to gardening are just a couple of the benefits of the program.  “We used the produce in our cooking projects in the classroom and it lets the kids try new things.”  Foss continued, “When they see that they can come up and choose something to try, even if they don’t like it the first time, they watch their peers.   When a child sees everyone else is eating something, we notice they are more apt to try it themselves.   Sometimes they will feed each other.”

Foss said, “We are very grateful for the Sierra Gardens program.  It gives the children another opportunity to try something new, especially something that is outside and has something to do with plants and nature.  We love that it is something new they are exposed to and can try, and they take pride in it.” 

Some parents have been inspired to plant a little garden at home, even if just in a window.  The Sierra  Gardens Program may have even planted the seed for a farmer of the future. 

Apply for a garden and get more information about the Sierra Garden program.

Volunteer Spotlight:  Dick Yates – Our Gleaning Website Rock Star!

Dick yates - volunteer gleaning website designer 2019While creating the new gleaning program at Sierra Harvest, we researched other group’s websites and discovered similarities between several of them because it turns out, they were designed by the same incredible volunteer – Dick Yates, who created the original site for Salem Harvest, the largest gleaning organization in Salem, Oregon.

We reached out to Dick to create a website-database system to improve the efficiency and continue the awesome work of the Gold Country Gleaning Program which rescues food that may have gone to waste and distributes it to those in need.   He more than willingly jumped in designing the system to meet our needs exactly, training our volunteer Harvest Leaders and providing technical support anytime…and all as a volunteer!

How long have you been gleaning and why did you start gleaning in your area? 

I have been gleaning with Salem Harvest since 2010. Salem Harvest began when four neighbors noticed backyard fruit trees with fruit going to waste and they organized a neighborhood project. Once a website was set up, the project grew quickly and now rescues 400,000 pounds of food in the Salem area every year.

Why did you create the Gleanweb site and what’s your background? Salem Harvest’s success was directly related to the efficiencies provided by the website. We thought that other gleaning organizations could also benefit and so I began offering to set up sites for them. I had no background in it and was interested in learning website and database design.  I then learned on my own from reference books and deconstructing existing websites.

What is a memorable experience as a Salem Harvest gleaner?

Salem Harvest invites volunteers to write thank you notes at gleans for the crop owners. One little girl wrote “Thanks for the delicious cherries. Because of you I won’t be hungry today.”

How many Gleanweb sites have you created and how much produce has been recorded as gleaned after you helped a variety of communities?

There are currently about 12 Gleanweb installations. Since 2010 they have rescued about 8.5 million pounds of food altogether – 2 million pounds just in 2018!

What do you enjoy most about being the Gleanweb designer?

Working with people from places all over the country (from Hawaii to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts) and being able to incorporate what they are doing into the software so that other organizations might benefit.

We are incredibly grateful to Dick for his exceptional volunteer support allowing us to increase our efficiencies in recruitment of volunteers, gleaning hosts, and managing data which ultimately yields in nourishing more Nevada County residents.

Sierra Harvest’s Gold Country Gleaning Program organizes volunteers to harvest fresh, seasonal produce that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to Interfaith Food Ministry which distributes to over 8,000 residents in need.  In its first season in 2018, volunteers gleaned more than 10,800 pounds of produce and we are on track to surpass that amount this year with the aid of the new website! Click here to sign up to be a gleaning volunteer, or a gleaning host.  If you are interested in getting trained to be a volunteer Harvest Leader, email miriam@sierraharvest.org today!

The Biggest Little Farm – Sept. 6th at the Nevada Theater

Get your tickets for this special screening of the award winning documentary, The Biggest Little Farm and support Sierra Harvest at the same time!

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles the eight-year quest of John and Molly Chester as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature. Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature’s conflicts, the Chesters unlock and uncover a biodiverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and their wildest imaginations. Featuring breathtaking cinematography, captivating animals, and an urgent message to heed Mother Nature’s call, The Biggest Little Farm provides us all a vital blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.

The screening will be followed by a Question and Answer panel with Sierra Harvest Co-Director Malaika Bishop, Aleta and Ken Barrett of Starbright Acres Family Farm, and David Benson, Produce Manager of the BriarPatch Food Co-op.

All ticket proceeds go towards the Sierra Harvest Farm Institute, providing business and ag-skills training for new and aspiring farmers.

Where: Nevada Theater, 401 Broad Street, Nevada City

When: Friday, Sept. 6 @ 6:30,PM, Q/A with local farmers to follow

Price: $10/general, $4/ages 21 and under (all proceeds go directly to Sierra Harvest)

Advance tickets on sale now through the Onyx Theatre website, at the Onyx Theatre box office (opens at 12:40 every day), or at the Nevada Theater the evening of the event. Tickets here

This event is co-presented by Onyx Theater, Nevada City Film Festival, BriarPatch Food Co-op, and Sierra Harvest. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UfDTM4JxHl8. Running Time of Film: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

“In its modest way, “The Biggest Little Farm” offers hope, and even suggests a way forward.” – G Allen Johnson, SF CHRONICLE

See you there!

Meet our 2019 Farm Crew!

Sierra Harvest Farm Institute offers a program for aspiring farmers, featuring hands-on training and supported learning.  The farm crew member is job matched with local sustainable farms willing to provide them with a positive and successful start in market farming. Farm Crew members also participate in our advanced production skills courses, taught by successful local farmers in their field of expertise.  The subjects covered are transplanting, irrigation, fertilization, successive planting, compost making, extending seasons and more. The classes are open to the public.  Check out our class offerings here.

Our 2019 Farm Crew members have already proven themselves to be quick learners and hard workers and have become an integral part of their farm’s crews.   These folks may go on to manage their own farms or become important team members of our already existing farms.  Educated and inspired farm community members add to the health of our local food system.  So meet our Sierra Harvest Farm Crew Members:

Abigail o'rourke 2019 farm crew at dinner bellAbigail O’Rourke is an employee of Dinner Bell Farm in Chicago Park.  Dinner Bell’s main crops are pigs and flowers.  Owner Molly Nakahara is an in-demand wedding floral designer.

Abigail is an upbeat, ready to learn kind of woman.  Previously, she managed an off-grid mountain farm in the Panamanian mountains and it was an experience never to be forgotten.  Her interest in agriculture has continued to grow, finally culminating while attending the Sierra Harvest Food and Farm Conference last February, and listening to the conference keynote speakers. She experienced a feeling of being in the right place at the right time.  It became clear to her that being a steward of the land was an important part of her future.

Abigail says “I have big dreams and am certain that this program will be an irreversibly strong step towards accomplishing them. “

Connor Fornier - stone's throw farmConnor Fournier works at Stone’s Throw Farm, an abundant vegetable and flower farm in Colfax, CA.  You can find their products at the Auburn Saturday market and the Truckee Tuesday market.

Connor grew up in Nevada County, born and raised in Grass Valley.  At a recent meeting with his host farm he was given high marks on all aspects of his farming skills, ability to communicate and being an excellent team member.

Connor says “I have been around agriculture my whole life.  For the past three years I have focused my free-time towards improving my agricultural knowledge and skill-set, from an organic standpoint. I am really excited to be partnered with a farm that focuses on organic clean growing and living soil.”

Katie Thomas - starbright acres family farm 2019 farm crewKatie Thomas is a strong team member of Starbright Acres Family FarmStarbright has approximately five part-time and full-time employees.  They sell to grocery stores and restaurants and at two local farmer’s markets, as well as operating their own farm stand on Polaris Dr., Grass Valley.

Before moving to Nevada County to take place in the Farm Crew program, Katie a pprenticed on a farm in Boulder, CA., owned by Jim Nelson.  For many years Jim has opened his farm as an active agricultural classroom, teaching the basics of farming, homesteading, and animal care. Katie had already been given a strong agriculture foundation.

Katie says; “I believe my purpose in life is to help reawaken and spark people’s connection, respect, love and stewardship to the land.  To help teach them to enliven their senses and appreciation for the wonderful earth and all her blessings in its many forms.”