If you attended SYRCL’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival two years ago, you may already be familiar with Lauren Valentino’s work as the producer of “The First 70,” a documentary about the closure of California state parks. Sierra Harvest is delighted that Lauren will be serving as our FoodCorps service member for the next year.
SH: What is your role as the FoodCorps Service Member for SH?
LV: I split my time at Sierra Harvest between two things: The first is increasing kids’ access to fresh healthy food in Nevada County. I am working closely with Theresa Ruiz, Food Service Director at Nevada Joint Union High School District, helping to procure local food for the cafeteria and assisting NJUHSD roll out a new program called California Thursdays this Spring (learn more about that in my CA Thursdays piece in this newsletter). The other half of my role here is educating kids about healthy food through hands on learning in school gardens, local farms and in the classroom. This school year I’ll be working with students at Yuba River Charter, Scotten, Lyman Gilmore and hopefully others!
SH: What were you doing before?
LV: Fresh out of college, I worked as a designer for several years in San Francisco. Feeling unfulfilled by the corporate lifestyle, I left that post to make a documentary film with my husband. After completing the documentary, I decided to go back to school to study sustainable agriculture and permaculture design in the North Bay and worked on a 5 acre certified organic educational farm for several years. My husband and I moved to Nevada City in early 2014 to pursue a rural lifestyle where we could grow food and flowers and have a deeper connection with land. It was important for me to get involved with the community here as soon as I got settled and continue the work around farm-based education I was doing back in the Bay Area – so I found Sierra Harvest.
SH: That’s a big career change! What caused that shift in your career?
LV: Living in big cities and working at a desk with no windows in an industry that was ultimately harming the planet was weighing very heavily on my conscience. It was a natural evolution – I loved the creativity of being a designer, but the venue for it just didn’t feel right any more. I was constantly yearning for weekend hikes in the Marin Headlands, wanting to go south to Big Sur, or tend to my small urban garden. While creating the documentary, we were touring the state parks and discovered the South Yuba River on SYRCL’s river clean-up day and fell in love with the area. We were invited to present the film at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival and the more we got to know the community here, the more we wanted to be a part of it!
SH: Why is Sierra Harvest’s mission important to you?
I was diagnosed with celiac disease 12 years ago and had a food awakening. I had to completely transform my diet from the processed, commercial fast foods I ate regularly to a completely organic, gluten-free diet. I healed very quickly of the symptoms I had suffered from since childhood and soon developed a real passion for preparing food and understanding where it comes from. Having suffered from a diet-related disease, it is important to me to be on the front lines of the movement that is shifting the way Americans are eating. I know first hand that healthy food can heal our bodies. I want to educate kids about making healthy food choices so they can avoid diet related health issues down the line, and also develop an enduring connection to food that makes them better stewards of the planet. I didn’t grow up learning about healthy food and gardening at school, so I’m very happy to be part of an organization whose mission is bringing this into kids’ lives in a very big way.