Collaboration & Leadership Among Local Schools will Assess New Scratch-Cooked School Meal Program!

“We have the opportunity to transform our student meal program to provide high-quality, nutritional meals using locally-grown food and substantially reducing waste,” says Scott W. Lay, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.  Thanks to the leadership and commitment of Mr. Lay and all nine school districts in Western Nevada County, they are moving forward towards a more sustainable food service model that features local and regional foods and reduces waste. These efforts will provide a way for all children, from Pre-K to grade 12, to eat well and fully engage in the enriching opportunities within their school communities.


Sierra Harvest applauds the schools’ collaborative efforts and commitment to student nutrition! Especially now, as they aren’t letting the demands of coordinating plans for a variety of learning models for the 2020-21 school year stop them from moving forward with the first phase of school food assessment and planning.

The first step in this groundbreaking project will begin this Fall with a  thorough assessment process conducted by the Chef Ann Foundation out of Boulder, Colorado. Founded in 2009, the Chef Ann Foundation is the nation’s leading nonprofit supporting school districts to help schools create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. To date, they have reached over 11,000 schools and 3 million children in all 50 states.

“Small rural school districts across this country struggle with their school meal programs,” according to Mara Fleishman, CEO of the Chef Ann Foundation. “Fewer students means fewer meals and less funding. The more meals you serve the more funding you get, and your ability to spend on higher quality food increases. The partnership in Western Nevada County CA is so important as a model for communities across the country to band together to create higher quality school meal programs.”

Based on an evaluation across the many elements of school food including food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing, the Chef Ann Foundation will provide a road map for the successful transformation of school food in our community. The many benefits will include improved student learning outcomes, reduced hunger, reduced incidence of behavior problems and boosting the local economy with job creation and support for small scale regional farmers. Additionally, a collaborative effort across multiple small rural school districts will provide a model for communities across the country, thereby putting Nevada County on the map for our commitment to providing students fresh, healthy food they need to succeed.

Leadership across the nine school districts and Nevada County Superintendent of Schools have been working together toward this vision in partnership with Sierra Harvest and with encouragement from parents and community members. A pilot program launched in 2017, Foothills Fresh, established a successful model with the Nevada Joint Union High School District producing scratch cooked meals for students in the Nevada City School District. The goal is to extend these benefits to all children in our community as the districts collaborate to move to a scratch cooked meal program.  As Brett McFadden, Superintendent of Nevada Joint Union High School District stated, “The creation of this new partnership will fundamentally reshape school nutrition in Western Nevada County. The opportunities to improve the lives and futures of our students, especially those in need, will increase ten-fold.”

Both Mr. McFadden and Aimee Retzler, Co-director of Sierra Harvest, are passionate about solving the inequities in the national school lunch program.  Good food as a basic human right should be available to all children since some rely on getting 60% of their daily calories from school meals.  Nevada County will most likely see for the first time in history, that more than 50% of school aged children will be eligible for free/reduced meals this coming school year.   Retzler has been advocating for this transformation for thirteen years and “Now is the time to ensure that all children have equal access to nutrient dense and delicious, whole foods.  We will create a just food system that is self-sustaining and treats the people who grow the food and the planet with the highest amount of respect.  What we feed our kids tells them a great deal about how we care for them and all nine school districts have prioritized seeing happy, healthy kids in line for their freshly made scratch cooked meals.”     

We thank and celebrate the heroes that have worked for an entire year to bring this project to reality:

Scott W. Lay, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools

Katie Kohler, Chicago Park School District

Carolyn Cramer, Clear Creek School District

Eric Fredrickson, Grass Valley School District

Monica Daugherty, Nevada City School District

Torie Gibson, Penn Valley Unified School District

Rusty Clark, Pleasant Ridge School District

Melissa Madigan, Twin Ridges School District

Dave Curry, Union High School District

Brett W. McFadden, Nevada Joint Union High School District


Learn more about this project and how you can get involved!