Has there ever been a better time to take control of your food security then today? One way to ensure a steady supply of fresh produce is to grow your own at home. If you don’t know how, the Sierra Harvest Garden program is here to help.
Sierra Gardens began about 9 years ago, in order to address local food insecurity and expand access to fresh organic food in Nevada County. Last year, Sierra Gardens participants grew over 4,000 pounds of fresh produce at home, with 100% reporting they now eat more fresh vegetables in their regular diet. According to program director Edy Cassel, “We expect to build our 100th garden this year”, including a new project at the Nevada County Youth Center, formerly Juvenile Hall.
The Sierra Gardens program offers several levels of service – from a full garden build, including irrigation and fencing to “toppings only” for those who already have the infrastructure. All options include two years of garden mentorship and support with veggie starts, seeds, cooking classes and more. How do you know if this program is right for you? It all begins with an application and a site visit.
Cassel explains that during a site visit, “I come out and evaluate the yard or property to see if there is an appropriate spot for a garden.” She said, sometimes there is not an appropriate spot so community gardens can be helpful, but if the property allows, the standard garden offered by the program is a 16 x 16-foot plot.
“Part of what we do in the program is we provide the plant starts,” explains Cassel. “We go seasonally with the right plants at the right time. We show up four different times of the year with seedlings and seeds to grow. Ideally, starting in early to mid- April, with cool weather crops like broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard, lettuce, collards, things like that.”
She added, “We do not try to fill the garden, leaving room from the spring crop to plant summer crops so there is a lot of planning that goes with a garden that size. We help with where to grow and what to grow.” Over the course of the year, Sierra Harvest will also incorporate tomato plants, pepper plants, summer squash, winter squash, melons, and a variety of herbs.
The cost of the programs varies, as there are discounted rates for lower income families. Cassel said, “Anybody who has children in school receiving free or reduced lunch will be eligible for some degree of scholarship. And if you can pay for it on your own, we offer a very reasonable price for all of the products and personalized services.”
Cassel emphasizes that regular participation is the key to success. “The people who get the most out of it are the people who take part and attend the classes. Once you have a garden, it is something you need to engage with on a regular basis,” she said.
Joan Lyons followed Sierra Harvest on social media sites and read about the gardening program – applied online and was a recipient of a garden! Lyons said it has inspired her and is thrilled to be growing food for her and for her family including a niece with special needs who loves to help in the garden. “It’s nice to be able to share my bounty” she said, “It feels really good to be able to do it.”
Lyons takes part in many of the Sierra Harvest offerings and recently volunteered to be the coordinator of the garden program at her daughter’s school. “I am really excited about this opportunity. I really like the community of Sierra Harvest and everyone I have met so far has been really great. It’s fun to be geeky about gardens!”
While growing food is hugely important, Cassel has seen how the benefits of gardening far exceed food production. “It addresses other things besides the food. It is healthy. It is fun to get out there. It gives people something to do. It feeds the body and the soul.”
Applications are available at the Sierra Harvest offices at 313 Railroad Avenue in Nevada City or online.