What about flower farmers?

By Lindsey Pratt
Farm Institute Associate

Getting to know your local flower farmers is another important step in supporting your local farming economy, even for those who primarily focus on supporting local food producers. It aligns with the principles of sustainable and ethical consumption. Like the local food movement, choosing locally grown flowers reduces the environmental impact associated with transportation and supports farming practices that are often more eco-friendly.

The well-being of local flower farmers is also intertwined with that of local food farmers. Pollinators, such as bees, play a vital role in both food and flower production. By supporting local flower farmers who prioritize pollinator-friendly practices, individuals contribute to the health of the entire ecosystem, benefiting not only flower cultivation but also the pollination of nearby food crops.

Many small-scale farmers often diversify their crops, cultivating both food and flowers. By supporting local flower farmers, consumers contribute to the economic sustainability of these farming operations, creating a more resilient and diverse agricultural landscape. The principles of supporting local economies, fostering community resilience, and promoting sustainable agriculture apply equally to both local food and flower farmers.

Here, we’ll get to know two of Nevada County’s cut-flower and plant-starts farmers.

Keerti runs Crow Song Farms, a small, family-run organic farm specializing in cut flowers and contract seeding nursery starts. Crow Song Farms is located at 1600ft in south Nevada County within the Wolf Creek watershed on Wolf Mountain. Last season Keerti trialed some cut flowers after being asked to do some contract seeding of flowers that have specific light and temperature germination requirements. The starts and the trial plots went so well that she was instantly hooked – Keerti knew flowers would be a way for her to combine her love of farming and her deep love of flowers. 2023 was Keerti’s first season growing cut flowers at scale, and they’re sold at the Nevada City Farmers Market and to retailers in the area.

Keerti has also participated in a lot of the programs offered by Farm Institute, including Farm Biz.  In Keerti’s first year of farming, Crow Song Farms began doing contract seeding for area farmers and used that as the foundation for her fledgling farm. Soon after, Keerti took the Organic Certification course with Farm Institute, and proceeded in the year’s long arduous task of getting the farm certified with CCOF, so that they could provide organic starts for other certified organic farmers. At the beginning of 2023, Keerti was matched up with an experienced farmer as part of Sierra Harvest’s mentorship program.

That experienced farmer?

Deena from Sweet Roots Farm & Floral Design, which started in 2010.

Currently, Sweet Roots cultivates just over 3 acres, growing a diversity of flowers as well as a nursery business, which thrives in the springtime when folks are eager to plant their gardens with healthy, organic, acclimatized seedlings.  Deena and Sweet Roots have developed a philosophy of growing techniques and business practices that provide our local community with certified organic, high-quality flowers and plant starts. You can find Sweet Roots Floral starts at Peaceful Valley, as well as their cut flowers & starts at BriarPatch Food Co-op. Deena also works with wedding clients to create beautiful wedding floral designs, and sells through Rooted Farmers, an online marketplace that connects local flower farmers, floral designers, and flower lovers of all kinds.

Even flower farmers, including seasoned ones like Deena, still face the same challenges as other small farms. You have to run a profitable business, from marketing to soil health and integrated pest management, and a floral design studio adds value that comes with an entirely new set of questions.  Sweet Roots has specialized to highlight their strengths, but still relies on others in the small farming community in many ways to make it to another season.

But Deena and Keerti aren’t concerned about being each other’s competition in the local flower market.

They want more flowers grown in our foothill soils, not flown from all over the world.  They want both our food and flower systems to be local and grown with sustainable practices. 

Caring about local flower farmers should matter for those who focus on local food farmers because it extends the principles of sustainability, economic support, and community resilience to the broader agricultural landscape. It recognizes the interconnectedness of various farming practices and emphasizes a holistic approach to supporting local agriculture and fostering a thriving local community.

Other flower farms in the Nevada County area:
Soil Sisters Farm | Little Boy Flowers | Bluebird Farm

Nevada County and the 2023 Farm Bill

By Amanda Hixson
Farm Institute Director

Every five years, Congress reauthorizes the farm bill – an enormous spending package that pays for food and agriculture-related programs. The 2018 farm bill cost an estimated $428 billion and expires in September 2023. The new round of legislation, which is currently being drafted, will have big impacts on agriculture and land management in Nevada County. Here are three reasons local farmers and residents should track the progress of the farm bill. Each of these themes will be discussed at Sierra Harvest’s upcoming Sustainable Food & Farm Conference on April 22 in Grass Valley.

SNAP

In 2018, more than 75 percent of Farm Bill funds went toward nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, are delivered by a program called CalFresh in California. More than 6,400 Nevada County households were enrolled in CalFresh in December 2022. The farm bill’s nutrition assistance also helps pay for the Market Match program, which gives CalFresh participants extra dollars to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. Around $22,000 in Market Match funds were spent at Nevada County farmers’ markets last year, although $40,000 was available.  Local farmers can learn more about how farmers’ market sales fit into a diversified marketing strategy with Javier Zamora of JSM Organics, who will present a keynote titled, “The Essentials of a Successful Farm Business” at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 22.

Conservation

You might be familiar with the Nevada County Resource Conservation District (RCD), which helps landowners fight invasive species, reduce fuel loads, control erosion, improve habitats, and more. The RCD is an independent special district, but it works closely with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – an agency that’s funded by the Farm Bill. Through NRCS, the Farm Bill also funds EQIP, a cost-share program that covers 50 to 75 percent of the bill for carrying out conservation practices; Nevada County landowners have been paid $4.6 million by the agency since 2017.  Learn more about NRCS and EQIP at the 2023 Sustainable Food & Farm Conference, where district conservationist Pamela Hertzler will lead a workshop called “Fund Your Farm with NRCS” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 22.

Rural Development

The farm bill also helps fund USDA’s Rural Development work, which includes grant programs that help develop local food systems. Previous rounds of the farm bill have underwritten many projects related to small-scale meat processing facilities, including funding for feasibility studies, infrastructure, and software. Ranchers in Nevada County – and across many counties in California – have identified the need for expanded slaughter and processing facilities to support the economic viability of ranching. Ranchers can learn more about meat processing at the 2023 Sustainable Food & Farm Conference, where Laetitia Benador of California Certified Organic Farmers Foundation will lead a workshop called, “Solutions for Small Meat Producers in CA: How to get meat from ranch to table” at 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, April 22.

The Farm Bill has broad and wide impacts on nationwide agriculture, for both producers and consumers.   The Sierra Harvest Food & Farm Conference is a local effort that can help connect regional farmers, ranchers, and their advocates to the benefits provided by the 2018 Farm Bill and will continue those efforts with the 2023 Farm Bill once authorized later this year.   You can learn more at www.foodandfarmconference.com

Getting to Know Women In Ag

For Women’s History Month we interviewed two local, hardworking, awesome women farmers that specialize in plant starts.

Keerti Freeman runs Crow Song Farm and does contract-seeding for local farms, is a graduate of many of Sierra Harvest’s Farm Institute programs like Farm Biz and Organic Certification, as well as our mentorship program connecting burgeoning farmers with experienced farmers in our area.

Randi Pratini runs Fresh Starts Organic Farm and has been connected to many community, food, and farming related endeavors in Nevada County from Sierra Harvest and beyond.  When not gardening or dancing, Randi also moderates the Local Food Coalition, an important hub and information resource for local farmers, ranchers, and gardeners. 

How did your farm name come to be?  Does it have significance to you?

Keerti Freeman, Crow Song Farms – When I first came to this piece of land after my mother had purchased it, my brother and I were beginning a treehouse project for my two children. I needed a place for them to hang out so that I could get farm work done. As we walked out on that beautiful March morning, the wind was blowing and the sky was crisp and clear, with puffy white clouds wafting in the distance. All was silent except for a gentle clicking, warbling, complex song. It was a pair of crows singing to one another. Thus “Crow Song Farms” was born.

Randi Pratini, Fresh Starts Organic Farm – There was a lot of mulling over different name options. I wanted the name to represent both what I do and that the starts are of quality, therefore fresh!

No particular significance other than what I said above.

Why did you become a farmer?

Keerti – I’ve been attracted to working outside in nature since I was a little girl growing up in Placer County. I started working on farms in my twenties, but it’s been a long road to get here. Before becoming a farmer, I worked for non-profits doing education and outreach, conservation, habitat restoration, and ultimately worked with women and children in India.  After I became a single mom, I needed to find a way I could work from home while still working to help mother nature. Farming was the clearest path I could see to give my children a life of stability, beauty, and the opportunity to give back to the planet, all while still being fully present for them.

Randi – In a way, I fell into it. I had lost a job and needed a next step.

My growing background was not extensive. It consisted of buying and planting a few herbs and tomatoes into wooden box beds on a NYC rooftop and then, creating a brand new in-the-ground bed, resulting in total garden failure. Too long a story for here but I learned a couple of things!

A friend invited me to work with her doing landscaping work; another friend invited me to garden with her on her property. These two opportunities got my hands in the dirt as well as opened doors to something I hadn’t done much of before. With the garden, we always had too many starts and would have several plant sales in the spring. Eventually I realized that no one else in the area (that I knew of) was growing starts commercially and I decided to give it a shot.

Tell us about your farm?

Keerti – In simplest terms, we specialize in contract seeding for farmers (growing plant starts to order), and are adding cut flowers to the farm this season.  Our 6-acre farm sits on a southeast facing slope in southern Nevada County at approximately 1600ft elevation. We are nestled on the Wolf Creek Watershed, which is a beautiful mix of rolling oak woodland, riparian creek ecosystems, and mixed coniferous trees.  As such, our farm has a strong focus on riparian conservation and habitat restoration.  We continue to tackle over an acre of intense Himalayan blackberry infestation so that it can become a safe haven for amphibians. We also have two acres set aside for wildlife and will be adding native perennials to further enhance and support the original ecosystem. Lastly, we will be installing hedgerows and swales for both erosion control, wind breaks, and to provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds. Everything we do, we do in harmony with nature.

Randi – I grow certified organic veggie, herb, flower, and perennial nursery starts at my farm & nursery at my home in Nevada City. The farm consists of two small plastic covered hoop houses, providing a sheltered spot for an early January start of cold hardy vegetables. In the late spring, the plastic comes off to be replaced by shade cloth, allowing both a cooler place for the starts and for me to work.

The nursery covers a very small area, approximately 100’ long x 75’ wide; including the two hoop houses, many tables to hold the trays of plants and some garden beds where I have perennials used for taking cuttings.

Why did you choose to focus on plant starts and nursery farming?

Keerti – We love farmers!  We also love working with other small business owners and families in our amazing community. With the love, support, and guidance of my family, partner, former employers Antonio Garza (of Feeding Crane Farm) and Michael and Shannon Whammond (of Hillview Farm), and the direct support of Molly Nakahara  (of Dinnerbell Farm), we started our pilot year in the spring of 2022 doing contract seeding for some of the coolest people we know.

Randi – There was no one else in the area growing organic plants starts in our county; at least that I knew of, therefore a niche was waiting to be filled.

What do you love about farming?

Randi – That it’s good to get dirty! It is fulfilling to know that people are buying plants that are only of benefit to them and all around them; including not just humans but our earth, air, birds, bees and beneficial bugs.

Keerti – As I said before, we love farmers and we love flowers. More than anything we love working with mother nature. However farming is all about relationships. Without the long list of farmers mentioned before, in addition to so many others like Pat and Dianne at Foothill Roots Farm, or Bryanna from Stone’s Throw Farm, or Takahiro Sazaki the manager at Feeding Crane (and his new Asian Veggie CSA!), or Rich Johansen of the NID board of directors, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Above anything else I love my family and I love my community. We live in the most amazing county in the country as far as I’m concerned. We feel blessed to get to work with the land and with our community. Its why we do what we do. 

Farming is hard. There is no way around it. But Michael at Hillview helped teach me the importance of stopping and taking a breath, looking around at the beautiful plants we’ve grown, listening to the Sandhill cranes migrating, enjoying the view even while we’re crouched down transplanting all day, and basically just reminding myself why I got into this business in the first place. There’s no other job where can you work outside in nature while singing, listening to music, having incredibly deep conversations with fabulous farm workers, or just listening to an audiobook.

What is your biggest farming challenge?

Randi – There are several but I guess the biggest is the planning – grow enough to sell but not too much and, not knowing if my commercial accounts are going to purchase from me as opposed to the other local growers.  It is fine to have too much in terms of having plenty to share with those who can’t afford to buy, yet, if I don’t sell everything that I have planned to, it means time and costs that are not able to be accounted for.  There is a benefit to too much though, either I or the chickens get to eat the non-sold starts (greens & lettuce). The soil can be put into my landscape or compost and the pots cleaned and reused but this makes for an extra step.

Keerti – Hands down, being a single mother is my biggest farming challenge. Just being a woman in general in this industry is hard. Finding access to childcare (or lack thereof) makes getting farm work done even more difficult, because the kids always come first. For almost all farmers, overcoming each challenge while maintaining one’s mental health can be challenging. But as they say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And in my case, it’s the relationships I’ve been blessed enough to build within our community that guide me. I just can’t speak enough to how incredible our farming community really is. My oldest son also tells me how  proud he is that his mom is a farmer, and is eager every day to help me with farm tasks. The look in his eyes and the love and joy my children bring to my life are the driving force that keep me going when things seem too difficult 

Lastly, without the guidance I continually receive through programs at Sierra Harvest, like my new mentorship with Deena of Sweet Roots Farm, I wouldn’t be able to overcome each challenge. This is why as part of our farm I am seeking to build more connections with organizations like Sierra Harvest and the Women for the Land, so that we can start to address these complicated issues as a community and find solutions.

How can the community support you?

Keerti –  Spread the word! If you know of anyone wishing to start their own farm, let them know that we can grow their starts for them. Whether you have your own seeds or not, we can help you. Also, if you know of anyone having a baby shower, bar mitzvah, coming-out party, a wedding with a smaller budget, a church fundraiser, or rotary club event, let them know where to find our amazing flowers! If your buddy just opened up his new auto-shop and he wants to attract the more discerning GenZ audience, let him know he can have weekly flowers delivered to his front desk to show that he is also a sensitive teddy bear. We have something for everyone and we absolutely love the folks in our community. We want to bring farmers incredible starts, florists organic local cut flowers, and our community members affordable floral options. We also donate many of our starts to various school gardens, and hand out flowers to underserved awesome folks in our community (because everyone could use a smile and some beauty once in a while).

Randi – Educate themselves on why to support organic (and why you have to pay more for this; there are so many reason), why to buy from local growers, share about the local growers to those who are not yet in the loop!

I love when I get to connect directly with customers, either by customers visiting my nursery or at the farmer’s market.  There is so much to see and talk about when one makes direct contact with the grower!

What is your vision for local food in our community? What would you like to see happen?

Keerti – I long for the day when 90% of ALL produce is grown locally, whether you live in Lake Merritt, Oakland or southern Grass Valley. I would love to see us little guys all banded together so we can push hard against the destructive practices of large-scale conventional agriculture. So we can demand equal access to government subsidies. Where all farm workers are able to earn a living wage and the farm owners are able to pay it (and themselves). I long for a future in which womxn are treated equally in agriculture, where we wont have to struggle to find childcare or fair representation in the legal system.  I long for a day when our farm communities are full of color and diversity and beauty, where we can exchange ideas and learn from one another no matter where we come from or what we look like. And I would love to see a future where all farmers can access quality mental health care. May my life be dedicated to these goals.

Randi – I wish to see more backyard gardens or if possible, small gardening coops; like community gardens where folks can work together and share experience / knowledge.

Gardening can be very fulfilling yet extremely challenging. During the first year of the pandemic, I could not keep up with the demand for any kind of plant. The next year there was less demand and last year, even less. My take is that the work of gardening was overwhelming to many and the returns, not as abundant as attained the first year or as wished for.

Coupled with this is that there is a large void in the understanding of how important feeding the soil is. I know that many of the new gardeners went out and purchased commercially available soil. This was ok for the first year but the beds rapidly lost nutrients that were then not replaced. The subsequent years’ gardens did not thrive and I believe many fledgling growers gave up.

We need more mentors for these novice gardeners but what I really want to see happen is a local compost business to be created. Not commercial compost but something that is made with care and knowledge, something that is not always bought up by commercial growers.

Where can we find your products?

Keerti – If you want to access some of our unique plant starts off our availability list, or are looking for cut flowers (dried or fresh), shoot me an email or give me a call and we’ll do everything we can to set you up. We serve Nevada County, Placer County, El Dorado County, and our awesome neighbors over the border in the Reno/Tahoe area. We’re also hoping to reach more businesses in the greater Bay Area.

Our website is a work in progress, but you can find more information on how to contact us there. We will also upload our availability list weekly for farmers or gardeners needing affordable starts. And once the cut flower season is finally underway, we will continually add our available cut flowers to our website.

keerti@crowsongfarms.com  916-663-7622  www.crowsongfarms.com

Randi – I sell directly to the public at my nursery by appointment only, and at the Nevada City Farmers Market in late winter through mid-June and then again late August through mid-September. My plants are also available at BriarPatch Food Coop, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, A-Z Hardware, Sweetland Garden Supply in North San Juan, Feather’s Flowers & Nursery in Downieville, and Peardale Farm’s seasonal farmstand.

Call to set up a nursery visit appointment 530-478-0800 freshstartsorganicfarm@gmail.com

Be a Hero – Join the 2023 Harvest Leader Team!

Pick fruit, meet new friends, explore our stunning county and donate the fruit to those in need (plus take a wee bit home for you)!
We are seeking passionate and enthusiastic volunteer Harvest Leaders who can commit to picking and/or leading a crew of volunteers at least twice a month June to November. You will pick fruit that would otherwise go to waste from Nevada County farms and home orchards and deliver it to Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) to be distributed to folks in our community.  In 2021 volunteers picked and donated more than 28,000 pounds to IFM – be a part of this awesome team! To be a volunteer Harvest Leader for the 2022 Sierra Harvest Gold Country Gleaning season, download the full job description and fill out the form below to apply. Questions? Contact Raven, our Gold Country Gleaning Program Coordinator.

Apply now! Training starts in late February!

Harvest Leader Application

Sierra Harvest & Nevada County School Food Services Agency awarded California Farm-to-School Incubator Grant for Foothills Fresh Program

Foothills Fresh, the collaboration to bring farm-fresh scratch-cooked school meals to all students in Western Nevada County just received a $488,000 California Farm to School Incubator Grant award. The Nevada County School Food Services Agency, a partnership between eight school districts and the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, was formed July 1, 2022 to support all students getting access to scratch-cooked meals using fresh, regional foods. The funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture was a competitive grant with only 37% of applicants receiving funding and was designed to facilitate innovative farm-to-school partnerships that benefit multiple school districts, a county office of education, and non-profits in their mission to provide nutrition education, fresh CA grown food in school meals and capacity building for scratch cooked culinary programs through long term partnerships. The collaboration between Nevada County School Food Services Agency, Sierra Harvest, the Chef Ann Foundation, and Kitchen Table Advisors can now move forward with this funding to improve not only the quality of food on the plate but implement more sustainable and environmental systems reducing food waste and the use of plastic packaging.

Aimee Retzler, Executive Director of Sierra Harvest was thrilled to be a grantee and to be seen as a leader in the farm-to-school movement across California. “Western Nevada County schools have enjoyed a farm to-school program for 14 years where students have fallen in love with local, fresh fruits and vegetables, and many students have access to weekly garden lessons and trips to our educational Food Love Farm. The missing link has been freshly prepared, scratch-cooked meals available to all students, not just those students who have kitchens in their schools. This funding allows the agency and its partners the opportunity to increase equity in their meal services by working together to build capacity and financial stability through innovation”.

An initial assessment conducted in 2021 by the Chef Ann Foundation, a nationally recognized leader in scratch cooked school food operations, identified possible ways of creating a model for Western Nevada County schools using a partnership approach leveraging the power of multiple school districts. Scott Lay, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools shared that, “securing this grant through our partnership with Sierra Harvest keeps us moving towards the goal of providing healthier scratch style cooking for our students”

School districts all over Northern California are now implementing scratch cooking models into their existing operations. For example, Kat Soltanmorad, Food & Nutrition Services Director and Registered Dietitian for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, has been working to create such a model over the last ten years. Students and parents support and prefer fresh made meals using locally grown ingredients in their menus. Farm to school principals drive the menu and entrees offered, especially offering seasonal produce that offers a superior quality in taste and affordability.

Here in Western Nevada County, a pilot program of Foothills Fresh was tested in 2017-18 between Nevada Union High School and the Nevada City School District to serve freshly made meals including salads from scratch that were not wrapped individually in plastic. This pilot was made possible by the collaborative effort between Sierra Harvest and NJUHSD, which began in 2014. The grant is an opportunity to build on that foundation and look to the future of a full scratch cooking model for Pre-K – 12 students in Western Nevada County.

And for all of the parents out there who are tired of figuring out what to pack for your child’s lunch, please go thank your superintendent and school administration for being leaders in the scratch cooking movement. Watch our 1 min film “Making Your Own” and Endorse the Movement to show your support.



Happy Retirement to Leo & Deb

After a long history with Sierra Harvest, including co-founder, developer of new programs, and volunteer extraordinaire, please join us in congratulating Leo Chapman and his partner Deb on their Sierra Harvest retirement this season.

If you already know Leo, you know that his partner Deb has been a force by his side every step of the way.  Most people don’t know how much they have contributed to the vitality of our local food and farm movement. 

Leo started Blue Bird Farm on a community member’s property, which was the beginnings of what would become the Sierra Harvest Land Match Program, and then started hosting farm potlucks to build community around food and farming.  These events later evolved to include dozens of farm across Western Nevada County, attracting hundreds of guests. 

Soon after, Leo realized he couldn’t do it alone, and so he formed a non-profit called Living Lands Agrarian Network with Masie Ganz, Tim Van Wagner, and Vince Booth with a mission to create a collaborative model for successful ecological farmers and farms.  Farmer Willow Hein joined the team to help grow the vision.  A few years a later, there was a network of Land Match farms where young farmers were getting trained in the business of farming and working collaboratively to create their own farm businesses.

In 2013 Living Lands Agrarian Network combined with another organization to become Sierra Harvest.  Leo and Deb stayed involved in many ways over the years – volunteering, building infrastructure at Food Love Farm, mentoring young farmers, overseeing the Land Match program, assessing farmable properties and matching owners with young farmers, as well as teaching beginning farmers at their own Chapman Family Farm.  The list of things that Leo and Deb have contributed to Sierra Harvest and our farming community is endless.

Please join us in wishing them a fantastic retirement from Sierra Harvest, as well as happiness and gratitude as they will now have the opportunity to travel and enjoy more time together and on the road.  But we have no delusions – Leo and Deb are continually thinking about how to make the world a better place and we know they will continue to share their passion, inspiration and vision for what can be possible as they explore this new phase of their lives.

Leo & Deb are also looking for a farmer who would like to live at Chapman Family Farm and take over the farm for the next year, and potentially years to come!  Contact Deb & Leo at ltlfeet@yahoo.com to learn more, and be sure to leave your phone number in your email to them.

September is Hunger Action Month

Over 15,000 people in Nevada County need help. Who are these people? They are families, senior citizens, veterans, the working poor and the disabled. Without Interfaith Food Ministry and other supportive agencies, they would not know where their next meal is coming from.

What can you do to help?

Phil Alonso at IFM Grass Valley 2019
Phil Alonso of Interfaith Food Ministry sorting donated fruit from Sierra Harvest’s Gold Country Gleaning Program

Saying Goodbye to Sierra Gardens

Victoria Chacon (volunteer) and Leo Chapman (past Sierra Garden Coordinator) installing a Sierra Garden.

Since the Sierra Gardens Program was launched eight years ago, 119 veggie gardens have been installed across Nevada County to homeowners, renters, local organizations and institutions, with the vision that community members would learn to love the benefits of growing their own fresh, local food.   We have loved hearing from participants about the joy of growing their own veggies, how they started eating more vegetables at home, and how these gardens have given them a new space to unwind and recharge.

While these unique gardens have touched the lives of thousands of adults and children, there were also real challenges for others in maintaining the gardens without continued assistance.  After much reflection, we are now transitioning away from the Sierra Gardens program as we explore how to best support the community at large in getting their hands on their own freshly grown veggies.  A recent partnership with Interfaith Food Ministry in a 6-month community centered design process will inform this evolution.

We have clearly seen how the Sierra Gardens experience has changed the lives of people in our community.  One single mother told us that the garden was a “God send” when money was tight and the garden provided abundant fresh food for her family.   A retiree shared how tending her garden kept her going day after day in the isolation and uncertainty of the early pandemic.  A toddler with a severe developmental disability ate food for the first time away from his mother – a fresh strawberry from the garden – at his daycare center.  A local woman lost over 50 pounds when she started planning her meals around what was growing in the garden.  The stories go on and on! 

The very last build the Sierra Gardens team completed was installed in July – 10 garden beds at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, where it will serve as the foundation for the hospital’s vision to offer garden-based nutrition education and a beautiful space for patients, visitors and staff to enjoy. We are incredibly grateful for Malaika Bishop and Leo Chapman for their vision to launch the Sierra Gardens Program in 2014, and for the community of volunteers and donors who have supported this work for so many years.   We want to give a very heart-filled thanks to Edy Cassell who has lovingly stewarded the program since 2016 and has invested her passion, creativity and care to empower so many in growing their own food.  Our gratitude also goes out to Dylan Drummond, David Fernandez and Claudio Mendoca, program assistants and of course to the “dream team” core volunteer crew who have invested hundreds of hours into these gardens so that others could grow their own food, including ‘Gate Master Larry’ Diminyatz, ‘Side Hill Matt’ Marquet and ‘Heart Love Christian’ Gutt, as well as Suzanna Elkin, Steve Danner, and Karen Wcisclo.

Collaborative Human Centered Design Process to Support Food Access & Education

Putting Community and Collaboration at the Center of our Program Evolution

Marleen (name changed) is 73 and lives in Nevada City.  She has worked her whole life and has never been in a situation of needing to use a food bank.  Due to health challenges, eating organic is a major priority, yet the high cost is a challenge due to finances.  She often has to use a time-consuming “defensive shopping” method – clipping coupons, and visiting multiple stores to find the best prices.  She loves the idea of a community garden and sees it as a way to build trust and community while also gaining valuable food resources to support her health.

Marleen’s story is one of many as food insecurity is on the rise in Nevada County.  Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) is just one local food distribution sites and they now serve over 11,000 people – up from 8,000 before the pandemic. In a recent survey of nearly 300 clients of IFM, 41% expressed a desire to grow and prepare their own food and explicitly expressed interest in a community garden.

gleaning volunteers 2019 at johansen farm
2019 Volunteers gleaning more than 8,000 pounds of squash donated by Johansen Ranch to Interfaith Food Ministry

For years, Sierra Harvest has been supporting the community in food access through gleaning and by supporting over 100 residents in having their own backyard garden.  Despite the positive impacts on many families of the Sierra Gardens program, distance between garden sites makes this program costly and many families have been unable to keep up with the garden without Sierra Harvest support.  Over the years, we’ve increasingly heard the desire from participants for a centralized community garden park that would provide opportunities for connection and educational workshops.

With these insights and a shared goal to increase access to food and education to support community health, Sierra Harvest and IFM applied to the Catalyst Accelerator in early 2022, to see how we might design a collaborative program that better meets the current needs of the community.  Over the past 6 months we have learned how to investigate, analyze, and orient solutions based on engaging community in thoughtful dialog about their experiences.

Building on IFM data, community garden research, and anecdotal data from current clients, our process of community interviews has fortified our understanding that a community garden will provide so much value and meet multiple community needs at once. 

We value our community and all voices in it – we know this design thinking approach builds trust, deepens authentic understanding, elevates innovative solutions, and ultimately creates sustained impact.  Not only have we deepened relationships with our community through this process, we have strengthened our invaluable relationship with IFM which strengthens the fabric of our work.


Row-by-Row Monthly Giving Program: Providing Stability — Creating Impact!

Rows and rows of lettuce at Riverhill Farm

If you have ever thought to yourself, I can’t give enough to make a difference, think again! 

70 community members are a part of the Sierra Harvest Row-by-Row Monthly Giving Program, contributing between $10 and $100 per month. Their combined contributions total $27,800 per year!  This is the very definition of synergy: two or more things working together to create something bigger or greater than the sum of their individual efforts.

What can $10 per month do?

13 Row-by-Row monthly supporters currently give $10 per month, for a combined total of $1,560 per year.

$1,560 provides 87 hours of school garden education. That’s great!

What if 13 additional people signed up at $10 a month, the total would be $3,120 per year. $3,120 would provide 173 hours of garden education over the course of a year. 

WOW! That’s even better!

What can $25 per month do?

17 Row by Row monthly supporters currently give $25 per month, for a combined total of $5,100 per year.

$5,100 is about half the budget of the Gold Country Gleaners program, which last year gleaned 28,579 pounds of fresh food and delivered it to Interfaith Food Ministry.

What if 17 additional people signed up for $25 per month for a combined total of $10,200, we could pay our harvest leaders a stipend and bring our gleaning totals up significantly.

Your monthly donation to Sierra Harvest can’t do it alone, but when you join with others, more students get their hands in the dirt, more food is gleaned and delivered to our local food pantry, and more farmers get critical training. It’s a community effort.

Row-by-Row monthly giving lends stability, and sustainability, to the Sierra Harvest programs that yield results. It is an effortless way to donate small amounts over time, avoid transaction fees if done through electronic funds transfer, and make a significant impact in our community.  

Become a Row-by-Row Monthly Supporter! You don’t have to be financially wealthy to make a big difference. Our combined efforts yield meaningful results. Click here to become a monthly supporter.

Thank you to all our present and future Row by Row members! 

For more information about monthly giving, follow this link, or call Jan Bedayn, 530-265-2343.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
Gonna mulch it deep and low
Gonna make it fertile ground…

Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger

Angie Tomey of Little Boy Flowers