Local Students Devour a Diversity of Produce Through Harvest of the Month This Year!

May 24, 2017

May is winding down.  After a long, brutal winter, the heat has returned and summer is just around the corner.  This is the time of year when it’s hard to concentrate.  We’re not yet used to the heat, and there’s still school and work to contend with. 

While most of us are still adjusting to the new longer, hotter days- our local farmers have been in overdrive getting fields planted and catching up after a wet winter.  To the relief of many, California is officially out of drought conditions!  This means growers will have enough water this season to cultivate abundant crops- which is a win for all of us.  Fruit trees are laden, reservoirs are full- the summer’s bounty is promising.

As we prepare for a bountiful summer, let’s look back on all that this year’s harvest of the month had to offer!  This past school year, as part of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School programming, 7,000 students at 24 schools tried over 8,000 pounds of local, seasonal, organic fruits and veggies.  And we’re not just talking about apples!  In this 5th year of school tastings, students munched their way through plums, lunchbox peppers, purple, orange, and white cauliflower, romanesco, pomegranates, collard greens, blood and cara cara oranges, kiwis, kumquats, snap peas and salad turnips.

There are plenty of adults who’ve never tried many of these items!  The last item on the list is the unassuming salad turnip- May’s featured taste.  Closer to a radish than a traditional turnip, they’re easy to grow and even easier to eat.   Also known as Japanese turnips, salad turnips are tender, sweet, white roots that can be eaten raw, or gently cooked.  A true farmer’s market treat, many local growers have salad turnips available throughout the growing season.   Mountain Bounty Farm grew the turnips for May’s tastings.

If you’re new to this whole “local food movement,” do yourself a favor and check out Mountain Bounty Farm.  This CSA Farm is celebrating its 20th year in operation, and their experience shows.  CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” a model in which eaters pay upfront for a weekly share of fresh food during the growing season.  Starting with just 48 subscribers in 1997, the farm now packs a whopping 700 boxes of local, seasonal food each week-year round!  MBF grows gorgeous produce that you can get through the CSA, or buy directly at the Nevada City Farmer’s Market.  The farm has 20 pickup locations locally and as far afield as Truckee and Reno, as well as a new service to put your produce on a 2 week “vacation hold.”  Boxes contain a diversity of veggies as well as a newsletter detailing recipes to try. 

So, when your kids come home asking for more of those turnips they tried at school – it just might be time to get a CSA subscription and do your own Harvest of the Month at home!



Volunteer Spotlight: Nicole Keene

May 1, 2017

Nicole Keene (left) with her daughter, Livia, volunteering at one of the summer Farm Potlucks.

SH: How did you become interested in helping Sierra Harvest (SH)?

NK: I wanted a job at SH, so I set out to be indispensable. I hadn’t worked in 17 years, and I didn’t want to be somewhere that doesn’t feed my soul – I’m too old. I needed something super part time because I still drive my kids to school, and mountain bike team, and yoga. But I want to have a career when I’m done with all of this. Ten years ago Aimee Retzler and I looked at the chocolate milk in school lunches at our kids’ school, and we wanted to improve the quality of the food and reduce the waste we were seeing with school food. I’ve watched her in amazement for the last decade, and I still wanted to be part of it.

SH: What do you do for SH?

NK: I volunteer in the Food Love Garden for the school tours. I help Elizabeth Brandley at Yuba River Charter – she is truly teaching them the science of composting and nitrogen fixation in the garden. My daughter Livia and I love leading the farm tours at the potlucks – it’s so much fun. We greet people as they arrive and tell them about Sierra Harvest. I helped Rachel Berry with the Food and Farm Conference and learned a boatload. And now I am an assistant to Malaika and Aimee for 7-10 hours/week, and I get paid! I get to work with Aimee and Sara on school tastings and much more.

Nicole Keene volunteering at the Annual Food & Farm Conference, 2017 (Photo by Kurtis Ostrom)

SH: What do you love about volunteering for SH?

NK: There are so many things that I love about SH. I love how SH is educating our community about the importance of supporting our farmers, the health of our kids through the food that they ingest, and also linking our kids to their food sources. I love that they build gardens for families and support farmers. I love that they help our farming community. I love that they hire women who are changemakers in their fields. (Editorial Note: no pun intended) I love the seed (Yes, another pun – this one might have been intentional) that Aimee helped plant ten years ago, and I love to have the opportunity to watch what that has turned into. I think that this group of people is amazing.

SH: What do you like to do when you are not at SH?

NK: I love to read, love my book club. I love spending time with my teenagers. I love watching them become young adults. Hiking. We are a hiking and water skiing family. I love cooking. I’m a food nerd.

SH: Favorite local food?

NK: The mare de bois strawberries from Mountain Bounty at the farmer’s market. They never leave the farmer’s market, except in our digestive systems. And I love Three Forks and what Shana has done there.



Camp is Coming!

April 25, 2017

As farmer Maggie has been planting seeds this spring, she’s been dreaming about all the food that she’ll be sharing with a few lucky kids this summer at Food Love camp in July.  Cucumbers, fennel, carrots, kohlrabi, zucchini and the first little cherry tomatoes that pop in your mouth…can you imagine it?  Right now, they are just sprouts- but as the days get longer and the season progresses these seeds will be food before we even know it. And this food will be prepared and eaten every day at camp this summer.  Fresh pesto, spring rolls, tamales, sun tea, fresh fruit…just thinking about it makes us hungry!

July feels far away now, but for farmers (and parents) it’s right around the corner.  Right now, the food love farmers are working together in a packed greenhouse filled with baby plants and a promise of another abundant season on the farm.  They are planning lessons for spring field trips that highlight pollinators, compost, soil and chickens and brainstorming on how to make this year’s summer camp the best yet. 

As they wait for the ground to dry out and the warmth to return in earnest, it is hard to imagine the hot summer days when the rhythm of the farm is watering, weeding and harvesting make up daily life.  These patterns are what is shared with campers each year, and why the kids keep coming back.  In this fast moving world, where screens compete for attention and kids have their pick of so many stimulating activities- Food Love camp is a chance to slow down and connect with a familiar place and an agrarian rhythm that’s as old as humanity. 

For some, it’s a place where they have come for field trips- for others they may be coming to Food Love for the first time.  Either way, campers get a week at the farm where they take ownership in the space and have fun!  It all starts with a name.  When camp begins- campers choose a farm name to go by for the week.  Something that resonates with them- past campers include: Water, Bunny, Chicken, Sunflower, Vampire Bat, Flower, Tulsi, Apple, Sky…the list is as endless and creative as you might imagine!

Armed with a new name, the campers get into the daily groove of the farm- watering starts, feeding chickens and collecting eggs, making bouquets and harvesting food for snack.  As the week unfolds, campers get more comfortable on the farm- creating their own games and eating their favorite new snacks.  Each day has its own theme such as: design your own farm day (culminating in a mock farmer’s market), animal day and friendsgiving feast day.  From honey tasting to seed piñatas, grinding corn with a mocajete (mortar and pestle) for fresh tamales and learning about edible weeds- farm camp is a great way to have your kids connect with where their food comes from.  Camp is open for kids ages 6-11 and runs 9AM-1PM each day for 2 sessions July 10-14 and 17-21.   Register by May 31st for an early bird discount!  Scholarships available. Register TODAY at:



Plants Sales are Better Due to the Generosity of Many!

April 25, 2017

New Food Love Farm greenhouse!

Have you driven by the Food Love Project recently and noticed something different?  As of this spring, the farm is now the home of a new, improved greenhouse!  With over three times as much table space to grow a collection of regionally appropriate and organic transplants, and even more area to provide education- the farm currently has dozens of crops in production that are just waiting for the ground to be ready!

The new greenhouse would not have been possible without support from: Soroptimist International of Grass Valley, the Welz Foundation, and Forever Flowering Greenhouses!  And of course our amazing and inspiring volunteers Leo Chapman and Brianna Abundiz as well as Food Love Farmer Maggie for working tirelessly in the off-season to make this vision a reality.  It really takes a village!

Forever Flowering Greenhouses sponsored the structure itself by providing 50% off on all the materials needed for the base.  Their top of the line greenhouse models provide ideal growing conditions for a variety of crops.  Other additions include passive ventilation; roll up sides from Vital Landscaping Supply and custom doors. 

Thank you also to Rolf Johnson and Alegria Organics for
revolutionizing the Food Love incubation station!  Thanks to their investment in infrastructure the farm can now start seeds months earlier than last year and can protect fragile baby plants during cold snaps.

The additional space also affords enough space to provide twice as many transplants to 22 local schools!  This spring, schools who participate in Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Program will pick up two trays of assorted transplants from tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, cucumbers, mixed flowers, peas, greens and more.

Volunteers Leo and Michael installing the plastic on the new greenhouse

Along with the new structure, the Food Love crew also designed fold up tables so that the space can be optimized for season extension.  This innovation will allow the growth of late summer crops in the ground and will extend the growing season by 8 weeks! This means more warm weather crops available to visiting school groups and U-Pick shoppers in the fall.

Thank you to again to all the funders, sponsors and volunteers for ensuring a successful foundation to this program for years and years to come!

Come see the new Greenhouse for yourself this spring at Food Love plant sales at 16200 Lake Vera Rd., Nevada City! There will be an assortment of over 35 varieties of organic plants offered on Saturdays April 29th, May 6th and 13th from 9 – 12:30.  All proceeds go to support garden education.  Bring your friends and family, kids are always welcome.   We now accept CalFresh SNAP benefits too!

If you miss our plant sales, then support the Mother’s Day weekend plant sale at the Miners Foundry on Sunday, May 14th from 9am – 3pm.  More info here.


Farm Crew Launches April 18th – Incredible Educational Opportunities for Farmers Still Available!

April 15, 2017

The Farm Institute is excited to announce the launch of it’s newest program, Farm Crew!  Designed to provide on-the-job training to aspiring farmers, Farm Crew will work in close collaboration with the vibrant farming community of Nevada County to grow the skills of our future farmers.  Farm Crew members spend a portion of their week working for Farm Crew host-farms while attending an advanced Production Skills Course hosted by Sierra Harvest.  Our course is taught almost exclusively by farmers on real, working farms!  Every other week (alternating with the classes) the Farm Crew cohort will gather as a community to decompress, connect, celebrate and support one-another.  We’re always looking for fun places to visit and refreshing activities to do during this social time and we welcome your suggestions!

While the full Farm Crew program includes placement into a job on a host farm, classes, community

Maisie Ganz, of Soil Sisters organic flower farm in Nevada City.

connection and individualized support from our Education Coordinator, anyone working on a farm in Nevada County is welcome to join Farm Crew for the classes and community component.  We have a few spots left for the Production Skills classes so please share this opportunity with aspiring farmers who are looking to enhance their agricultural education this season.  You will learn from our local farmers at Riverhill, First Rain, Sweet Roots, Foothill Roots, Organic Ag, Super Tuber, Starbright Acres and more! For more information, get in touch with


Changes on Sierra Harvest’s Staff – New Faces and a New Role

April 15, 2017

We are delighted to welcome two new staff members this month – Amelia Padini and Kalita Todd – and congratulate Rachel Berry on her promotion.

Amelia Padini, Food Love Project Farm Educator

Amelia Padini, new Food Love Project Farm Educator

Amelia will be serving as the Food Love Project Farm Educator, coordinating school field trips to Sierra Harvest’s educational farm as well as the popular Food Love Farm Summer Camp. Originally from Boston, MA, Amelia has lived and farmed in Philadelphia, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Central America. “I’m just really excited to dig into this community,” says Amelia (no pun intended). “I want to give from all the experiences I’ve gathered from so many diverse places.” Her experience as a Food Corps Service Member, among other positions where she taught kids about social and environmental justice, cooking, nutrition, and gardening has prepared her well for helping Nevada County kids learn about where their food comes from. When she is not at Food Love, Amelia will be working at First Rain Farm, hiking, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, and practicing yoga.




Kalita Todd, Farm Institute Education Coordinator 

Kalita Todd, new Farm Institute Education Coordinator

Kalita brings a wealth of experience to her role as Sierra Harvest’s Farm Institute Education Coordinator. In her role,  Kalita will help our farm apprentices choose and carry out special projects (such as beekeeping) on their host farms, in addition to their daily farm duties. She will also coordinate classes taught by a variety of mentor farmers, and organize social activities for the apprentices. Kalita was a founding member of the Ecological Farming Association (producers of the Eco Farm conference) and has been an organic farmer for decades. She is excited to help Sierra Harvest achieve its goal of increasing the number of people who regularly consume local, sustainably grown food in our community from 2% to 25% of the population. “This is bringing my long-term goals into local work,” says Kalita. “This work is incredibly important — it has to go hand in hand with supporting the farmers that we now have through opening more markets as well as educating new farmers and consumers.” In addition to her duties as Education Coordinator, Kalita is farming a 5-acre homestead and enjoying her five grandchildren.




Rachel Berry, Engagement Director

Rachel Berry, new Engagement Director

Sierra Harvest would like to congratulate Rachel Berry on her promotion from Engagement Manager to Engagement Director. As Engagement Director, Rachel will work to inform and engage more people on the impact that Sierra Harvest is having on Nevada County: “A lot of people have heard of Sierra Harvest, but they don’t know the breadth of what we are doing,” says Rachel. “We are on the cusp of making some really big changes in our community. I’m looking forward to getting more people on board and excited about our vision.”


Keep chewing till it tastes sweet: Kumquats are the Harvest of the Month

March 22, 2017

Sierra Montessori students trying the kumquats, the Harvest of the Month for March, 2017

21,960.  That’s how many kumquats found their way into over 300 Nevada County classrooms earlier this month.  Small, shiny, sweet and tart- kumquats are a lesson in patience, bravery and tastiness.   Both common and exotic- the kumquat is March’s Harvest of the Month.  If you’re like many people- you’ve never had one.  Don’t feel bad- most of the 7,000 students who tasted them this month hadn’t tried a kumquat either.   But once they tried it, they were sold!  Before the tasting, only 10% of students claimed to like the fruit- and after tasting it, a whopping 70% were ready to eat more! 

You may be wondering- what is a kumquat?  And why do 70% of Nevada County school kids like it?  A kumquat looks like a tiny orange, and tastes like a sweet tart…that is, if you can keep chewing it.

So here it is: Kumquat 101. 

Step one: Procure a kumquat. 

Step two: Roll it in your (clean) hands to release the essential oils, and inhale deeply.  Contemplate its citrusy nature.  Ask yourself why you don’t smell things before eating them more often.

Step three:  Pop the whole thing in your mouth and keep chewing till it tastes sweet.  Are you up for the challenge?

If you are, you might just get lucky.

In China, kumquats are called “Gam Gat Sue”.  “Gam” rhymes 
with the Chinese word for gold and “Gat” rhymes with the Chinese word for luck. The tiny green leaves symbolize wealth, and the shape of the kumquat is a symbol of unity and perfection. Everyone who eats the fruit for Chinese New Year is promised good fortune, prosperity and happiness.  Not a bad deal, for a tiny fruit.

You can eat these vitamin C packed, antioxidant filled gems out of your hand plain, or you can get creative.

Here are a few ways to enjoy the lucky kumquat:

  • Halve the fruits and add to a green winter salad with endive, escarole or spinach
  • Add the kumquats to a fruit salad with kiwis (another Harvest of the Month star!) other citrus and a dash of mint
  • Go classic and make a marmalade or candy them
  • Get fancy and preserve them in honey or make an infusion
  • Mix with spicy peppers for a flavorful relish




BriarPatch Sends Nevada County Farmers to the EcoFarm Conference

March 22, 2017

Four Nevada County farmers attended the Ecological Farming Association’s 37th annual EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove this past January, thanks to the BriarPatch Food Co-op. Jeremy Mineau, farmer at Super Tuber and conference attendee, was grateful for the scholarship: “It’s THE big ecological farming conference on the West coast,” he said. “It’s pretty expensive – I’ve never been before because of that. The scholarship was a great opportunity.” The three other farmers that BriarPatch sponsored were Chris Shehab (also of Super Tuber), Ken Barrett of Starbright Acres, and Jacob Benedict of Mountain Bounty Farm.

Aside from educational presentations that you might expect at a farm conference (the latest trends in cover crops, organic weed management, etc.), our local farmers took advantage of workshops ranging from how to react to the upcoming Food Safety Modernization Act to the legal aspects of running a farm. Mineau left the conference feeling inspired: “A highlight for me was getting a broader perspective on what farms at my scale are doing and the steps to get to the next level of profitability and efficiency, being able to pay workers more.”

540 Pounds of Super Tuber cabbage was devoured by 6,700 elementary school students as part of the Harvest of the Month Program, March 2016.

The best part, according to Mineau and Shehab, was networking with other farmers, buyers, and even funders. Mineau was able to seal a deal to sell over 1800lbs of red cabbage while he was attending the conference. The ironic part? The buyer is Mountain Bounty — a farm that is located just a few miles away from Mineau’s farm in Nevada County.

Shehab enjoyed getting to know Starbright’s Ken Barrett at EcoFarm, and learning how Ken started up his farm without a tractor and grew it into a successful business. Shehab has a theory about why it takes attending a farm conference four hours away to get local farmers to talk to each other.  “Ken is working 60 hours a week – there has not been a lot of opportunity to hang out with him.”

Sierra Harvest is grateful to BriarPatch Food Co-op for continuing to support our local farmers in so many ways.


Soggy Boxes, Dry Fruit: Behind the scenes for February’s Harvest of the Month kiwi delivery

February 17, 2017

Of course the kiwis arrive in the midst of another atmospheric river.  Why wouldn’t they?  Their arrival coincides with approximately the 30th inch of rain that we’ve received in as many days.  As the delivery truck arrived, I was immediately soaked to the bone and wondering how to keep roughly 8,000 kiwis dry.  Laughing to myself, I thought about how fitting it was to be back on the job as Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Director here in the pouring rain after 4 months of maternity leave.  As the driver got out of the cab, he yelled to me “Do you have a forklift?”  I smiled and made body builder muscles with my arms and said, “I am the forklift!”   Postpartum workout regime starts now.

Not much is said about the logistics of how produce from the Harvest of the Month program magically arrives in over 300 elementary and middle school classrooms and 3 high school cafeterias.  We focus on the adorable things the students say and how they are trying new foods each month, which is obviously very important.  But let’s step back for a minute and peek behind the curtain, shall we?  If YOU were going to get over 7,000 students at 25 schools to try a given produce item on the same day- how would you do it?

It’s a logistical ballet that is both amazing and somewhat ridiculous at the same time.  For our delicious kiwifruit, getting to this delivery day has been a long time coming.  Vines have to be at least 3-5 years old to begin producing fruit and it takes roughly 230 days for that fruit to form into something we want to eat.  That’s over 7.5 months!  And that’s after waiting for many years.  If I plant a kiwi now, my baby will be in kindergarten by the time I am getting good fruit!  I’d better plant now to be sure she has a Vitamin C filled snack option for 2022.  A mature kiwi plant can produce around 50 pounds of fruit per year, if you are patient enough to wait that long.  This is all to say that February’s Harvest of the Month is the culmination of years of work, by the farmer and the plants.  

Let’s get back to that large box truck in the pouring rain, shall we?  He’s got 83 cases of organic large size kiwis coming from Wild River out of Marysville.   Our delivery is the only pallet in this giant truck, and the driver is used to a more “conventional” delivery location. You know, one with a loading dock, a forklift and potentially some sort of cover from the sheeting rain.   Luckily, he’s a good sport.  When he realizes we have to unload everything by hand, he smiles and resigns himself to getting it done (which is good because he has no choice). 

As we begin to offload the truck, Liz Peterson the farm to school liaison from Grass Valley Charter arrives with her son, Sam.  To the obvious relief of the driver (and myself), we’ve got reinforcements.  We make a fire line and begin moving 1,700 pounds of kiwis, box by box.  Soon, Heidi Zimmerman, another liaison from Chicago Park School arrives.  She joins the fire line (can we really call it a fire line?  More like water line) and the boxes move even faster.  Before we know it, the team is soaked and the kiwis are covered with plastic tarps- waiting in soggy boxes for the next part of their journey. 

And over the course of the next several hours, these boxes are picked up and shuttled into cars and trucks, some by headlamp- as 22 dedicated Farm to School Liaisons brave the deluge to pick up their fruit (perhaps wondering why they signed up for this job in the first place).   Then, each liaison goes home and counts each and every kiwi out into bags for each classroom, adding a half sheet tasting survey and a special cheat sheet with interesting information about these kiwis.  They send emails with lesson tips and tasting ideas reminding teachers that tomorrow will be Harvest of the Month day.  They make dinner, tuck kids and grandkids into bed and go over tomorrow’s logistics of regular life plus torrential rain and small fuzzy fruit.


640 Pounds of Local, Organic Citrus Devoured by Nevada County Students Thanks to Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits Farm

January 27, 2017

Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits Orchards

Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits has been a strong supporter of Sierra Harvest and the Harvest of the Month program for several years. This month farmer Greg Lewis sold 600 lbs of local, and organic Cara Cara pink navels and blood oranges to Grass Valley Child Nutrition Services (GVCNS) and 40 pounds for the high schools for taste testing and California Thursdays menus. Sierra Harvest spoke with him about his farm and his involvement with the community.

Sierra Harvest (SH): Tell me about your orchard – what are you growing?

Greg Lewis (GL): We have a 20-acre farm that is 70% citrus: Satsuma mandarins, Tango mandarins, Cara Cara pink navel, blood oranges, navel oranges, Minneola Tangelo, Meyer and Eureka lemons, Red Flame grapefruit. We also grow other types of fruits: apples, Asian pears, plums, pluots, pomegranates, and apricots.

SH: How did you get into growing fruit?

GL: Farmer blood has run deep in our family for four generations. I was in construction for 20 years, in the ministry for 15 years, but that farmer blood kept calling, so in 1999 we started a farm in Newcastle, a mile from where I grew up. It’s a modern-day homestead. We turned 20 acres of weeds into orchards, a couple of houses, and a barn. My four kids and my wife – we all worked on it together.

Our farm store is open for three months (November-January) for U-pick. We welcome families for picnics, and exploring the orchard. Kids get to learn what it is like to tromp around in the mud, and pick their own fruit. We do school tours, both self-guided (free) and if you pay $5/kid you get a tour from a farm manager, learn about why we are organic, and go home with fresh-squeezed juice.

SH: Why are you organic?

GL: It’s part of our philosophy of taking care of the environment. We wanted wholesome, clean fruit for our own family and families in our community. We want to produce healthy soil, which produces healthy fruit.

Grass Valley Charter School Students taste testing the Cara Cara and the blood oranges from Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits – 1 of 25 schools tasting testing as part of the California Thursdays program.

SH: How did you get connected with Sierra Harvest and GVCNS?

GL: Malaika Bishop knew about us through Mountain Bounty – we provide fruit for their CSA program. She started talking to me, and I was excited that we were kindred spirits, me growing it, Sierra Harvest turning people on to good, wholesome, organic food. I started supporting Sierra Harvest financially, and by donating fruit. Amanda Thibodeau reached out to me to buy fruit for Harvest of the Month, and connected me with Suzanne Grass at GVCNS.  I’ve been providing fruit for the Harvest of the Month program for three years now. This year, Sierra Harvest’s Food Corps Service Member Sara Lieber suggested that I provide fruit for the GVCNS Nevada Joint Union High School District CA Thursdays program so on Jan. 26th, my fruit will be tasted by almost 10,000 students in Western Nevada County and it will be served in their school lunch. 

SH: How are these relationships helping your business?

GL: Any time you connect with the end user (school system, parents, local customers), they learn about local farms that are producing crops that they are excited about, and it’s a win-win for all of us.