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.