Connecting Farmers and Businesses Locally

food bank 2019 delivery from local farms
Delivery of fresh, local produce to the Food Bank of Nevada County 2019

In support of Sierra Harvest’s mission to make locally sourced food accessible to all, Procurement Specialist Lauren Scott, has been working to build relationships between local farmers and local businesses.

Hired by Sierra Harvest in 2017, Scott works primarily with food service directors, chefs and farmers to understand their needs, find common ground, and build relationships.   Scott said, “I am not a distributor or middle-man.  We don’t sit on any produce.  We just try to help connect them and then nurture the relationship for them to continue making those purchases on their own.”  

She explained the reason that is necessary is because most food service directors work with distributors who make it really easy to get whatever they want, whenever they want it, with a single phone call — though that produce may be trucked in from miles away or even brought in from other countries. Scott said, “It’s a bit of a foreign concept to have to call local farmers to find out what they have and wait for their delivery day, but it has been really successful, when we find a match that works for both the producer and the buyer.”

One of those successes is with Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH). Scott introduced SNMH Nutrition Services Director, Noel Slaughter to the farmers of Mountain Bounty Farm to find out what produce would be available in what season and what items would fit the hospital budget.  Slaughter then began incorporating those items into her menu planning. 

The relationship worked so well, Slaughter has expanded the local menu to include produce from Indian Springs Organic Farm, Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits and most recently added local free-range meat from Nevada County Free Range Beef. Scott said, “The hospital is serving locally grown, grass fed meat and I don’t think anyone really knows it.  It is a big deal.”

Sierra Harvest’s procurement program has grown significantly over the past year. Once focused exclusively on institutions such as schools and hospital food service, Scott now provides support for Restaurants, Caterers, Grocers, Senior Living Facilities and food pantries such as Interfaith Food Ministries and the Food Bank of Nevada County.

Scott began working with Interfaith Food Ministries in April of 2019 and since then they have purchased nearly 10,000 pounds of organic produce from local and regional farmers including butternut squash from Johansen Ranch and sweet potatoes from Mountain Bounty Farm. 

One of Sierra Harvest’s newest procurement partners is The Food Bank of Nevada County. Executive Director Nicole McNeely said the organization received funding from the California Department of Social Services (Cal Foods) to buy food within California.  She reached out to Sierra Harvest to help her match the needs of the Food Bank with local farms and is grateful for the help she has received.  She said, “It really feels like I have a comrade and we are working on this together.”  

The Food Bank’s December Holiday distribution included carrots, purple and green cabbage from Super Tuber Farm (grown within a few miles of the distribution center), as well as Pearson Family Farm persimmons, Johansen Ranch spaghetti squash and Meyer lemons. 

McNeely has arranged for tastings and education on how to prepare the local produce, so clients expand their food knowledge and options.

In just two months, the Food Bank has spent over $6,000 on 5,400 pounds of local produce.  Scott said, “That is making a meaningful impact on local farmers.” She credits McNeely with “doing a really good job balancing wanting to support local farmers and making sure she is using funds prudently – stretching the Food Bank dollars to get the most for her clientele.” 

Scott added, “While the program doesn’t completely replace regular food distribution, it is a way to support local farmers, and offer customers the freshest produce possible in addition to whatever the businesses are serving. It is about building new habits for the buyers and helps build markets for local farms.”

McNeely said, “It is important to pass on to the families the experience of eating a carrot that is grown right down the road.  It’s important for the clients to be connected to their local food sources and farmers.  From a nutritional perspective, being able to offer food that is grown without pesticides is really a great offering we are able to give.”  She also emphasized the importance of giving the many children they reach an understanding of how food grows and the nutritional value of the food they are eating. 

 “This is food that is grown here.  You can grow this.  You can produce your own food by growing something like this,” McNeely added.  “It’s an education piece.  It’s an economic piece.  It’s a really exciting thing we are glad to be a part of.”

food bank delivery 2019 - johansen ranch