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

Malaika’s pursuing her dream at Bluebird Farm

After serving as co-director Malaika Bishop stepped into a part-time roll at Sierra Harvest last March in order to pursue her dream of starting a farm venture. We caught up with her to see how it’s going.

Tell us about your farm and where you are farming.

Bluebird farm focusses on greens and flowers. I have four part-time employees and we are growing ½ acre of flowers up at the Jacobson Dude Ranch on Cement Hill Rd and 1 acre of lettuce and cutting greens at Woolman at Sierra Friends Center.

Woolman burned in the Jones Fire in 2020. We spent last season working to rebuild and expand the farm site at Woolman last season and weren’t able to get anything in the ground until late Oct, so this is really our first full growing season. There is still a lot of infrastructure to be built but we are making it work.

What has been most challenging about farming so far?

Balancing the budget. In 20 years of running non-profits I saw some challenging budgets, but those pale in comparison to balancing a first year farm budget. I am holding out hope that it will get easier!

Waiting[MB1]  a year for FEMA to clean up the fire debris on the farm site and now waiting on plans and grading to rebuild farm sheds has slowed down the timing on rebuilding the site and is pushing some of those winter projects into the main growing season. It is going to get REALLY busy!

What has been most rewarding?

Getting to finally grow and sell a few crops late last fall. Seeing beautiful rows of salad mix in the hoop house and long rows of ranunculus popping up this spring. It is going to be ridiculously beautiful.

Working hard with an amazing crew outdoors every day and seeing the transformation from a disaster zone to a beautiful cover cropped farm site.

Why the name Bluebird Farm?

Many people remember our farm site up at Jacobson’s fondly as Bluebird from the days that Leo Chapman and Tim Van Wagner farmed there during the Living Lands Agrarian Network days when we had potlucks and contra dances with 100 people there. (We merged Living Lands and Live Healthy Nevada County to create Sierra Harvest) We are bringing back the name Bluebird and using it for the whole farm.

Where can people get your products?
Well, we are partnering with Tim of First Rain Farm and Leo of Chapman Family farm on a collaborative Community Supported Agriculture box. You can sign up on the First Rain Farm website for a weekly installment of veggies. We will be growing the greens mostly (salad mix, lettuce, arugula, spinach etc).

You can treat yourself or a loved one to a FLOWER share and get a weekly installment of flowers all season long. Maybe a Valentine’s gift? You can sign up at . Full season shares are going fast, so don’t wait too long.

Mostly we will be selling our greens wholesale so you will see them at your local restaurants, schools, grocery stores etc.

What are you most excited about growing this season?

Veggies: I have to say I am excited to geek out on growing straight beautiful rows of greens really efficiently. The lettuce mix we are growing is out of this world delicious. We are growing it using a paperpot transplanter. I was a sceptic at first but am totally sold now.  

Flowers: It is so hard to pick one flower with over 120 varieties but because they will be here first, I’m going to go with ranunculus. To die for, and a big feature of our spring flower bouquets!

After so many years doing farm education, is there any education in the future of Bluebird?

Why yes in fact! We are partnering with Sierra Harvest to host a field day for the upcoming farm conference March 3rd where you can learn about how to build start-up farm infrastructure and some of our favorite time saving tools we have built and purchased. We will be joined by Prema Farm from the Reno area who have many more years and farm hacks under their belts.

We will be also partnering with Woolman on their programming as they get up and running bringing school groups from the Bay Area up to campus to learn about Social and Environmental Justice. There will be a food justice component on the farm that we are excitedly building curriculum for. Also, participants of their summer camp will get to participate in farm activities in June and July. They are also hosting local school groups to do day long field trips on campus.


Eric Ove: Cooking up Skills for Lifetime of Health at Brighter Futures for Youth

By Olivia Steele

Eric Ove, who “reads a cookbook like a mystery novel,” is Bright Futures for Youth’s (BFFY) first-ever full-time Kitchen and Nutrition Program Manager.  Eric says his passion for the power of deliciously nutritious food was born when he fully understood how “the right blending of flavors, aromas, and textures can create a memorable and even healing experience.” With experience in some of Nevada County’s most beloved restaurants and time spent as a supervisor in a children’s educational and behavioral program, he was made for the job.

Marrying the value of fresh, whole foods with exploration of adventurous, multi-cultural flavors and the appeal of comfort foods, Eric encourages expansive imagination in meals. The youth get to experience the magic of adding cinnamon and cocoa powder to chili, or even deconstructing shepherd’s pie into a medley of lemon mint peas, garlic scallion mashed potatoes, and red-wine spiced beef and pork filling. Seeing the joy and inspiration that kids bring to the plate reminds Eric that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

Eric’s dreams continue to fuel his work, he has goals to offer as many as four cooking classes per month inspired by student curiosity, homestead storage expertise, and skills that encourage food knowledge and independence for life. Each class offered is tailored to support confidence, skill, understanding, and enthusiasm – ranging from classes on balancing price and quality for ingredients to classes on “how to turn a pumpkin into a pie.”

In between cooking and serving 150 meals a week, Eric is making moves to develop a no-questions-asked food pantry where youth can grab shelf-stable, nutritious food any day they need. In 2021, through gleaning and local farm efforts, Sierra Harvest was able to send 28,343 pounds of produce to Interfaith Food Ministry. Eric decided to utilize the goods from IFM to implement a dehydration program, producing orange vanilla dehydrated apples, black pepper and thyme strawberries, and even a “warming winter strawberry granola with delightfully spicy strawberry chips.” We’re so thankful for community members like Eric who cultivate working relationships with local farms and organizations to provide not only nutritious, heart-healthy meals to youth – but to also demystify “acquired tastes” and encourage exploration into rich tastes and fearless flavors.

Be a Hero – Apply to be a Volunteer Harvest Leader
for the 2022 Gold Country Gleaning Season!

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) – Wow! What a remarkable volunteer opportunity this is and it could be yours!  We are seeking passionate and enthusiastic volunteers 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, check out the job description and contact Edy at to apply.

Contact Edy by May 13! Three required trainings for Harvest Leaders begins in late May.

Grow Your Own! Let Sierra Harvest Build your Garden!

Do you love fresh homegrown veggies? Do you need help getting a garden built? Or do you already have a garden, but need support with seeds, starts, amendments, or irrigation? If so, the Sierra Gardens program can help!

We offer package deals to build your garden and then offer ongoing support in the form of seasonally delivered seeds and starts, irrigation, mentoring, and classes. The average garden size is 16×16, but we will work with your specific situation. Boxes are not included but can be built for an additional cost. The satisfaction of having a garden goes beyond having fresh homegrown food to eat… you become connected to a natural system that can provide hours of enjoyment!

Here’s what Sierra Garden recipient Annette Muller had to say about her garden last year:

“I just wanted to let you know how much we are enjoying our garden. And not just the abundance of the amazing fruit it’s bearing, but the simple act of witnessing its growth – who knew my greatest summer entertainment would be watching squash plants flower?! There’s nothing like stepping into the garden to a hundred bees humming to make you feel alive :)”

Fill out the application here to have us come do a site visit and give you a quote! (scroll to the bottom of the Sierra Gardens web page for application)

Rooting Out Racism and Planting Justice

By Sarah Arndt

For those of us who are white and who also identify as farmers, land stewards, and good food advocates, what does it look like to understand, uproot, and transform a cultural inheritance of white supremacy into an embodied practice of liberation, abundance, and justice? One of our white farm educators reflects on the intersection of farming and anti-racism and what white people and white-led/white-dominant organizations need to do to root out racism…

My name is Sarah Arndt and I’m a farm educator at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm. I’ve worked as an educator, facilitator, and advocate at the intersection of food, youth, and education for the last decade. My experience at the farm has also been shaped by my passion for transformation, healing, and accountability as an everyday practice in service to racial justice and collective liberation. As a white cis woman working in mostly mission-driven and non-profit spaces, this practice requires being in constant relationship with the question, “what does it look like to understand, uproot, and transform a cultural inheritance of white supremacy into an embodied practice of liberation, abundance, and justice?” 

Continue reading “Rooting Out Racism and Planting Justice”

Honoring Anita Smith: A Centerpiece of Food and Care at Silver Springs School

Marty Mathiesen, Principal, Silver Springs High School

Anita Smith was a dear friend and centerpiece of the Silver Springs High School staff.  

Anita was the lead person with food services at the high school, but to Silver kids and staff, she was a lot more.  Anita knew every kid in school and she felt a personal responsibility that each and every student was cared for and had plenty to eat.  Students and families under the poverty line are supported by a free and reduced price meal program which means the cost of student meals is covered by the state.  Silver Springs High School is identified as an entire school that meets that criteria. 

Continue reading “Honoring Anita Smith: A Centerpiece of Food and Care at Silver Springs School”

Health Care For Future Generations Through the Sierra Harvest Heirloom Legacy Circle

By Janice Bedan

In the earliest days of the Sierra Harvest Farm to School program, volunteer Sandra Barrington saw children get excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and encouraging their classmates to just try it!  She immediately understood the impact of this program.

“Good health starts in childhood, where good habits can influence your entire life.

Continue reading “Health Care For Future Generations Through the Sierra Harvest Heirloom Legacy Circle”

Celebrating our Volunteer of the Year, Kwong Chew: Six years of service and counting

By Aimee Retzler

Kwong Chew joined the Sierra Harvest board in October 2015 when the board was only two years old.  At first I remember thinking, ‘Wow he talks really fast and has one million good ideas.  How will I ever keep up with him?’ 

I watched him join the finance and strategic planning committees offering value, input and oftentimes challenging our thought processes to move beyond the semantics, the details.  Sometimes I remember feeling frustrated that I often didn’t really understand what Kwong was trying to convey to me because he thinks at the speed of light and can see potential so clearly.  I saw him donate his time and resources over and over again to the benefit of the people Sierra Harvest serves.  He has diplomatically pushed the organization to consider new ideas and was instrumental in starting our investment committee and formulating our policy.

Kwong thrives in the realm of possibilities twenty-four seven.  He deeply cares about every single one of our employees and their own health and general welfare. He asks the tough questions and actually listens to the response.

I am so grateful for Kwong and his six years of service to Sierra Harvest and this community.  His energy, passion and willingness to help are hallmarks of what being in service to others means.  Kwong has made a huge difference in the evolution of Sierra Harvest helping us grow from simple concepts to a well-respected nonprofit.  Because of this, we celebrate Kwong Chew as Sierra Harvest’s Volunteer of the Year.  I feel so lucky that you will continue on the board and I thank you for your incredible service to this community.