Inaugural Farm Crew is Learning, Connecting with the Community

July 18, 2017

Samantha at the Nevada City Farmer’s Market with Soil Sisters Farm

Sierra Harvest’s first “Farm Crew” program is mid-way through its first season, and the  inaugural crew is enthusiastic about the experience. Part of Sierra Harvest’s Farm Institute, Farm Crew members participate in a combination of hands-on, paid work experience at a local farm along with classroom and in the field learning from a variety of farmers around the county.

Samantha Limonciello was curious about the whole farming process, how things go from seed to market. When she learned about the Farm Crew after graduating from high school, she decided it was the perfect gap year experience. She was paired with Soil Sisters to learn all about growing flowers, which was very different from her previous experience with utilitarian permaculture. “The hands-on experience and constant feedback loop is so helpful,” she said. “Every day we are doing different things, and repeating it. So I’m getting really good with transplanting and working with the tools.”

Farm Crew member Amelia Pedini was also looking for a hands-on

Farm Crew members at Sweet Roots Farm learning about transplanting.

experience with a production farm so that she could better understand what makes a small farmer successful. She has been working with both the Food Love Farm and First Rain farm to learn what farming is all about. “I appreciate the blend of hands-on what it takes to get everything done in a day and the ability to ask questions in a classroom,” she said especially from legendary experts like Amigo Bob, who like many farmers is usually too busy to just sit down and talk for three hours.

Both Amelia and Samantha have found a lot of value in connecting with our local farming community on farm tours and when they work at the market. Interested in signing up for the Farm Crew or just a Farm Crew class? A  number of classes are available to the public. Sign up on Sierra Harvest’s website. Or, get more information about the Farm Crew program.



Goodbye Sara, Hello Lauren — Changes in the Sierra Harvest School Food Staff

July 18, 2017

Sara Lieber, outgoing FoodCorps Service Member

Sierra Harvest would like to send out a big thank you to our FoodCorps Service Member Sara Lieber who has been working with us for the past year to encourage elementary and middle school students to eat more delicious local food. Thanks Sara — you literally moved mountains up here in the foothills!

And, Sierra Harvest would like to welcome Lauren Scott in the new role of Food Procurement Specialist. Lauren will be working with the Nevada Joint Union High School District and other institutions to figure out how to bring in more locally grown food at a price point that works for their budgets. Aimee Retzler, Co-director of Sierra Harvest shared that “We are seeing an upward trend in buyers’ interest in getting the best ingredients possible for the people they serve.  Lauren will provide a matchmaker service where institutional buyers like food service directors can get connected directly to organic producers to enable a transformation of their supply chain to a more regional food procurement model”.

Lauren Scott, Sierra Harvest Procurement Specialist

Lauren has experience with all aspects of local food systems — she has worked in the field, at farmer’s markets, driven produce, ordered produce for a food co-op, and worked for a farm to school program on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, helping Ojibwe Native Americans reclaim their traditional food system. Based in North Lake Tahoe for the past four years, Lauren is excited to move to her new homestead property in Nevada City, despite the higher temperatures in our area. She knows how to deal with the heat — her favorite hot summer night meal is a cold Vietnamese noodle salad, followed by a big piece of watermelon with chili and salt on it.

She is also excited to begin working with Sierra Harvest. “I love the mission to connect the community to local farms and to help farmers earn livable wages to keep farming viable, and to do it all through the lens of justice,” she said. “It’s not just about how great organic food is, but how organic food supports people throughout the process.” Welcome, Lauren!


Sierra Gardens Are Thriving, Thanks to Our Volunteer Garden Builders

July 12, 2017

Children delight in the backyard garden at the Love Joy Playschool, sponsored by Sierra Harvest | Lenkaland Photography

Sierra Harvest believes that a tomato that travels a few feet from your backyard to your kitchen tastes better than one that was shipped in a truck from hundreds of miles away. We also believe that everybody should have access to delicious, fresh, locally grown food. But not everyone has the knowledge to grow their own food, or the money to get a vegetable garden started.



The 2016-17 Farm to School Awards!

June 6, 2017

Deer Creek students tasting cauliflower as part of the Harvest of the Month tasting – Yolanda Williges, Health Education teacher.

As we all know, at the end of school there are awards ceremonies honoring our students and their achievements throughout the school year.  In honor of awards season (and all the awesome programming that happened this past year), Sierra Harvest presents the 2016-17 Farm to School awards!

Harvest of the Month

One of the most popular parts of farm to school, this program offers tastings of local, seasonal, organic produce in 300 K-8 classrooms and 3 high school cafeterias each month.   In this 5th year of school tastings, students munched their way through over 8,000 pounds of produce including: plums, lunchbox peppers, purple, orange, and white cauliflower, romanesco, pomegranates, collard greens, blood and Cara-Cara oranges, kiwis, kumquats, snap peas and salad turnips.

Winner for surprise favorite: Kumquats! 

Tasting kumquats as part of the Harvest of the Month program at Sierra Montessori School.

Before trying them, only about 10% of students said they liked the kumquat- and most had never even seen one!  After tasting, over 70% of students wanted more!  For this reason (and for all the pictures we received of sour faces), the kumquat is the Harvest of the Month dark horse winner.

Winner for most ridiculous produce pick up:  Kiwis

Liaisons picked up and distributed 1600 pounds of kiwis in the middle of an atmospheric river!  So many kiwis, so much rain.

Honorable mention: Farmer Javier from JSM Organics

Farmer Javier not only provided high quality produce, he also had it cut and packaged for 7,000 students (that’s a big job!).   And, as if he weren’t busy enough- he even came for a visit to Nevada Union High School to talk about what it’s like to be an organic farmer.

Mason Partak, guest chef at Cottage Hill school teaching about spiralizing veggies!

Tasting Week 

Next to Harvest of the Month, Tasting Week is right up there as some of the most popular events held.  And for good reason!  Kids get to prepare food and eat it!  This past year, 22 chefs made delicious, hands on dishes including favorites like wild greens pesto, rainbow veggie slaw, potato latkes and fresh spring rolls.

Chef of the year: Mason Partak

At the age of 13, Mason is already a force to be reckoned with!  The winner of “Chopped Junior,” this chef brought his skills and enthusiasm to Cottage Hill Elementary, sharing his “Any Way You Want It, That’s the Way You Eat It Salad.”

Farm Partners

This is a really hard category to choose a favorite!  We are so fortunate to work with 16 amazing local farmers who have taken the time to come into classrooms, host field trips and provide produce for garden carts at 20 schools.  Really, they are all winners.

Students at Cottage Hill having fun spiralizing zucchini and nibbling on it as part of their salad taught by Mason Partak.

Winner for this year’s Farmer Partner of the year: Starbright Acres Family Farm

Starbright is a star of farm to school (pardon the pun) and has been since our program began.  Aleta and Ken Barrett provide produce to 3 schools

and have hosted countless field trips and in school farmer visits where students taste fresh food and even get to snuggle baby goats! Additionally, Aleta is a farm to school liaison for Lyman Gilmore Middle School and she leads all the Harvest of the Month tastings for them.

Plant Sales

Just a few weeks ago, 22 schools had plant sale fundraisers to support farm to school for their school community.  This year, schools received 23 varieties of flowers, herbs, fruits and veggies to sell- and more of everything! Schools received 100% more plants this year than ever before.

Plant sales at Seven Hills School, April 2017.

Putting together 44 mixed flats of 23 varieties (that all mature at different times) is a logistical feat that takes quite a bit of patience and expertise. 

Plant Sale Logistics Master: Maggie McProud

Since taking over leadership at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm, Maggie has brought over 10 years farming experience to the table- and local schools and families are benefitting!  In addition to growing high quality starts for sales, Maggie has provided produce, field trips and in school farmer visits for 5 schools as part of the farm to school program.


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.”