New Leadership for Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Program

November 20, 2017

Marisha Finkler, Sierra Harvest’s new Farm to School Director

After six years of leading Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program, “Farmer Amanda” aka Amanda Thibodeau is stepping down to spend more time with her family and her own family farm – Super Tuber. Marisha Finkler will be taking her place as Sierra Harvest’s new Farm to School Director. “As I reflect on how far we’ve come,” said Amanda, “I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of programming as well as the impacts that Farm to School is having on our children and community.  It has been my privilege to help develop this program into what it is, and I can’t wait to see where Marisha takes it.”Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program really has come a long way. Now in its 9th year, the program has grown from one school garden at Hennessey Elementary to serving 96% of the K-8 population at 21 schools in Western Nevada County.Farm to School now encompasses a whole range of hands-on activities designed to expose students to how delicious fresh, seasonal, local produce can be. Students now get to taste a new fruit or vegetable each month through the Harvest of the Month program, including sunflower sprouts, kumquats, persimmons, turnips, kiwis and cabbage. They eat some of that same produce, cooked by skilled local chefs, during Tasting Week. They also get to eat it fresh off of the Sierra Harvest farm stands at their schools. And they get to know their farmers by visiting the farms and seeing what local really means.

Amanda Thibodeau, Sierra Harvest’s first Farm to School Director

Marisha, a Nevada County native who moved back here in 2005, has been watching Sierra Harvest and the Farm to School program for a long time. “I am so impressed with how Sierra Harvest has grown,” she said. “I love the mission, and the way all the different projects and avenues promote local foods and healthy eating for families from all walks of life.”

Marisha graduated from Stanford with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and worked with immigrant children in community gardens in East Palo Alto before traveling and doing research on indigenous agriculture as a Fulbright Scholar in Ecuador. This job is a culmination of her experience working on farms, for nonprofits, and with children. 

And, she has a knack for getting kids to eat vegetables. “I was so excited when I found a way for my kids to like arugula,” she said. “Just add lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt: marinate it a bit and the bitterness fades. Have it as a salad or put it on pizza.” Marisha spends her free time with gardening, cooking, running, skiing, and biking with her husband and three children. Sierra Harvest is delighted to have her on board. Welcome Marisha and best of luck to Amanda!


The nostalgia of broccoli

November 7, 2017

Farmer Missy Neville from Mountain Bounty with November’s Harvest of the Month (photo by Amanda Thibodeau)

I’ve been coordinating the Harvest of the Month program for a long time now, just about 6 years.  Starting with 7 schools and eventually expanding to 21 elementary and middle schools, 4 high schools and now the hospital- the program has become an entity unto itself.  I’ve overseen 40 different pickups of local and regional fruits and veggies throughout the years and had just about everything that can go wrong happen.  Pouring rain?  Check.  Half the amount that you ordered?  Check.  The wrong item?  Check.  Farmers unable to fill the order you placed the day before pickup?  Check, check, check.

Since this program began in 2008, we’ve sampled 32 different types of local, regional, organic produce in schools all over the county.  From easy wins like mandarins and kiwis, to suspicious roots like salad turnips and radishes- local students have tried more new, raw veggies in the last 5 years than I ever had until I was at least in my mid twenties.  Thanks to Harvest of the Month, there are third graders with a more varied palate than many adults I know. 

As I look back on so many tastings, the ones that stick in my memory are the weird ones.  The ones where I connected with new farmers, surmounted ridiculous logistical challenges and most of all surprised and delighted 7,000 kids.  Some of my favorite moments include: 

Chopping hundreds of pounds of red cabbage for the Harvest of the Month (Feb. 2016) – (photo Miriam Limov)

  • Shredding hundreds of pounds of green and red cabbage with 10 volunteers and wondering if the students would like it- just raw and in a bag. (Spoiler alert- they were into it!  Both times!)
  • Sending out detailed instructions on how to eat a kumquat (Roll it, sniff it, keep chewing till it tastes sweet).
  • Helping one farm to school liaison fill her convertible full with boxes of peppers sticking out the top and wondering if she’d make it back to school safely…
  • Working with Farmer Javier on getting jicama cut and packaged out to 300 classes- and having each classroom receive its own full jicama plant so they knew what it looks like growing. I had never seen a jicama plant before our delivery- it’s the root of a long beautiful vine, and it’s a legume.  Who knew?

Or there are the times when the farmer has had an excess of a particular item and we’ve been able to make it happen as a win-win for both the farmer and the schools.  Asian pears from up and coming farmers who didn’t have a good market or a bumper crop of persimmons that needed a home.  Family farmers, real people who are making their living growing food, provide the produce that goes out to the students- and Harvest of the Month is making a difference for their businesses.  These stories are what make farm to school so special in my book.

Of course there are great stories of field trips to farms, of guest chefs leading students in cooking tasty, seasonal recipes- but those are stories for another time.  At the heart of Farm to School is Harvest of the Month.  It happens every month, for every student in every classroom.  The farm to school liaisons who deliver it are hounded by students for leftovers- kids want to know what’s coming this month and what will be next.  So far, over 16 TONS of produce have been served- one taste test at a time. 

Mountain Bounty broccoli bagged up and ready for HOM (photo Amanda Thibodeau)

This month’s highlight is broccoli from Mountain Bounty Farm.  A local treasure, Mountain Bounty has been growing beautiful produce for 20 years!  At this point in Harvest of the Month, what we’re asking farmers for is nothing short of a miracle.  Seriously.  We want a significant quantity of food ready on one particular day, packaged up just so.  This November, it’s 604 pounds of broccoli divvied into 2 pound bags, washed up and ready to eat.  And despite also packing hundreds of CSA boxes, and slogging through cold mud after the first rains of the year, Mountain Bounty delivered a literal mountain of broccoli.  Their broccoli is also highlighted in the NJUHSD Foothills Fresh school meal program this month, and on the menu at the hospital as part of a new partnership with Dignity Health.  These are the relationships our local food network is made of, and there are a lot of passionate people committed to making it happen. 

So why am I waxing poetic about Harvest of the Month?  Please forgive my produce nostalgia.  It’s not as if it’s the end of the school year- but for me it is the end of an era.  I’m hanging up my hat as the Farm to School Director in favor of spending more time on our own family farm, creating and scheming on new food and farming ventures, and caring for our one-year-old daughter.  It’s a bittersweet moment in time, but I’m excited to see where the program goes and what the new Director brings to the table.  And if Sierra Harvest’s track record is any indication, what’s on the table is bound to be delicious (and local).




The Lucky Eight!

October 26, 2017

Eight local Nevada County farmers who sell directly to BriarPatch Food Co-op are the lucky recipients of an incredible scholarship to attend this year’s 38th annual EcoFarm Conference, the oldest and largest organic farming conference in the West.  It is a prime networking and educational hub for farmers, ranchers, distributors, retailers, activists, researchers, and educators. The conference features over 70 workshops, intensives, keynote speakers, an exhibitor marketplace, seed swap, live entertainment, mixers, and organic culinary fare. Workshops cover practical and cutting edge information on crop production, livestock, soil health, marketing, distribution, and farming and food system issues. 

Thanks to the BriarPatch Food Co-op and the National Co-op Grocers for the second year in a row offering this scholarship doubling the number of recipients who will make a huge difference for Nevada County’s local food and farming community.  And the lucky 8 winners are:

Autumn Barr, Laughing Oak Farm 

Kritters Blevins, Mountain Bounty Farm

Grayson Curtis, Bonanza Gardens / Foothill Collaborative Farming Initiative 

Sandra Higareda, Higareda Family Farm 

Donald Joslin, The Natural Trading Company 

Emily Koller, Riverhill Farm 

Deena Miller, Sweet Roots Farm

Kale Riley, Mountain Bounty Farm 

More good news – Rob Thompson of Legacy Ranching also just received a pass to the Quivera conference, the place to be to learn about sustainable ranching, through a scholarship from Sierra Harvest, Bear Yuba Land Trust and one of his grazing clients.


May I Have Seconds Please?

October 25, 2017

Making fresh spring rolls at Chicago Park School.

“I wish I had 10,000 hands so I could raise them to tell you how much I love the squash,” stated Aubrey, a first grader at Union Hill Elementary School as she munched on her Squashamole dip that she prepared and shmeared onto the cracker all by herself. Four first grade classes of students smashed the locally grown butternut squash, tomatoes and carrots in a baggie, picked the fresh thyme leaves off the stem and added them to the mashed up aromatic mixture with a final squeeze of lemon to “bring out the flavors” – and walla, each student created their own delectable spread. 

Faces and fun designs were then created utilizing locally grown chopped up vegetables thanks to Susan Gilleran, a professional baker and contributor to Sunset Magazine, who shared her enthusiasm for teaching children about healthy eating as a volunteer chef for Tasting Week at two schools.  In its 6th year, Tasting Week is part of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Program.  This year, 22 volunteer chefs got busy creating tasty dishes utilizing all the bountiful and seasonal produce from local farmers in Nevada County inspiring creative cooking with almost 3,000 students from 24 schools from pre-K through high school seniors.

Victoria LaFont, volunteer chef at Seven Hills School preparing apple pizzas with healthy toppings.

Along with her mother, a Yuba River Charter School student was seen filling her shopping cart with ingredients for fresh spring rolls that she had learned about at school earlier that day! She even proudly posted pictures of the spring rolls she made for her family on social media. Kwong Chew, Sierra Harvest and BriarPatch board member and 3rd year volunteer Tasting Week chef, shared about the balance of tastes in food as students picked out their favorite produce to roll up a fresh spring roll and dip in several options of complementary sauces. Not only did he inspire elementary students to prepare fresh veggies, he helped high school seniors add a healthy dish to their repertoire when they head off to college. As one student from Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning stated, “I could definitely make these fresh spring rolls in my dorm room!” 

Tostadas with mashed sweet potatoes and black bean salsa, twice baked curried squash, quinoa salad, butternut squash pie, carrot slaw, purple potato latkes, pasta primavera and sweet potato gnocchi (pronounced knee-o-kee – who knew?) with maple cinnamon sage brown butter is just a sampling of the mouthwatering dishes the students tasted. Learning to cut with a knife safely, pouring salad dressing directly onto the bowl so that you don’t end up with soggy salad, and that roasting a vegetable brings out the flavor were just a few of the interesting tid bits the students learned while nibbling on delicious food that they made!

Jonah Arbaugh, 1st grader at Union Hill School enjoying his squashamole cracker.

Bill Jensen, former principal, volunteer garden educator and first year volunteer chef for Tasting Week shared, “It was truly my pleasure to be part of such a worthwhile activity.  I am sure that the students at Sierra Montessori School where they created a salad learning about eating the colors of the rainbow to garner a variety of nutrients every day will count this as a memorable experience.  Combined with all the other elements of the Farm to School Program, Sierra Harvest is really having an impact on the youth of Nevada County.  It was a pleasure to make a contribution to Sierra Harvest.”

Sierra Harvest is so grateful to the many volunteer chefs and local farmers that grew most of the food used in the cooking classes.  Your talents have inspired thousands of children and their families and we thank you for your time and energy. 

If you are interested in supporting future guest chef visits, please contact Aimee Retzler at


The Last Taste of Summer: Fresh, organic peppers in the classroom and in school lunch!

October 11, 2017

October has arrived!  The first day of school is a distant memory.  As the days get shorter and the leaves begin to turn, we seasonal eaters are busy eating the last of the hot weather crops.  Once ubiquitous, zucchini is now a scarce commodity.  At the Food Love Farm, cool nights have already brought a chilling frost to the fields, several times over. 

Soon, we will feast on bright orange winter squash, tender collard greens and sweet broccoli.  Moving toward the season of storage foods, we squirrel away the last tomatoes and green beans.  Anyone with a home garden has noticed the plants have slowed way down- despite warm days- the cool nights and lack of light are taking their toll.  Plants are drying down and making seed; cover crop is going in.  Farmers can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s still plenty of work to do before winter sets in, but the pace has slowed and the end of the season is in sight.

So what better way to celebrate the last of the summer bounty than by tasting sweet, fresh lunchbox peppers?  Oh peppers- so crunchy and delicious.  What a treat for 7,000 local students to enjoy for October’s Harvest of the Month.

Not only did these peppers get sampled in 21 elementary and middle schools, but they were also munched on in 4 local high schools and featured in the Foothills Fresh school lunch program in meals such as a southwest salad, pasta primavera alfredo and a Harvest of the Month chicken fajita wrap!

Launched this school year by Nevada Joint Union High School District, Foothills Fresh serves over 300 lunches a day at Deer Creek Elementary and Seven Hills Middle School. Lunches feature whole foods and produce from local, organic producers like: Riverhill Farm, Greg’s Organics, Johansen Ranch, Indian Springs Organics, Wild River Organics, and JSM Organics. As a result, hundreds of students are fed from local and regional farms, supporting our community based food economy.

Foothills Fresh has increased school lunch participation and garnered enthusiasm from students, parents, and staff. One Seven Hills parent wrote,

“The new school lunch program has changed our lives.  Not only are my kids enjoying healthy, delicious meals, but we don’t have to be bothered with the inconvenience of making them.  The kids were so bored with the same lunches we would pack, that they stopped eating them.  We’d then have an argument about them wasting their food. Now, they come home and brag about what they got to eat to make us jealous!”

Lunch is a critical part of a student’s success and proper nutrition improves academic performance and increases student attendance. By providing a nutritious school lunch, our schools are creating a better learning environment and a healthier community. Foothills Fresh not only supports students nutritionally and academically, it creates an equitable learning environment for students from food insecure homes.  Each month, lunches in this program will showcase the Harvest of the Month featured item.

To learn more about Foothills Fresh, Harvest of the Month and Farm to School- visit or join us for lunch at a participating school. 




Farm Crew 2018 Now Accepting Applications!

September 27, 2017

Farm Crew 2017 at Sweet Roots Farm

Would you like to spend the 2018 growing season working alongside a farmer in Nevada County?  Apply now for Farm Crew 2018!  This exciting training program is launching its second season and we have a great line up of potential host farms ready to help train the next generation of farmers.  Farm Crew members work side by side with agricultural mentors on commercial farms while attending an advanced production skills class and receiving one-on-one support from Sierra Harvest.

“Through Sierra Harvest and Farm Crew I’ve been placed with an amazing farm… Working there has taught me so much alongside the weekly Farm Crew classes.  Not only have I learned things that I’m already using, but I’m constantly getting inspired as well. I also love how I’ve also been connected with an amazing community of farmers and lovers of local food.”  Farm Crew member 2017

Hardworking individuals with a commitment to careers in production agriculture and who have spent at least one season working on a farm or ranch are encouraged to apply here.  Once through an initial screening process, qualified applicants will be passed on to host-farms for hiring by March 2018.  If you have any questions, please visit our website,, or contact

212 Acres of Vegetables

According to the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census, there are 212 acres of vegetables being grown in Nevada County.  With a total land area of 974 square miles, that is a mere 0.034% of our county!   For another interesting comparison, according to this same census, the average farm in Yolo county is 456 acres.  Access to land is a critical component to the success of agriculture in Nevada County.  The Sierra Harvest Farm Institute Land Match program works to connect our farmers and ranchers to more and better agricultural lands.  If you are a landowner with a sizeable area that may be agriculturally viable and you would like to make it available to a farming or ranching operation, please get in touch to schedule a site visit.   You can fill out this online form, or email  If the land looks good (we’re looking for decent soil, access to irrigation water, and good sun exposure), we’ll list it on our website and work to make a connection with a farmer that is a great match for your land. 


It’s an Asian Pear Bonanza!

September 19, 2017

Ah September, how we’ve missed you!  Yes, summer is great and all- but by September we’re ready for something different.  Some cooling breezes, some changing leaves.  Something fresh, crunchy and quintessentially fall.  Something like an Asian pear…

In case it wasn’t obvious, Asian pears are September’s featured produce item for the Harvest of the Month!  Part of Sierra Harvest’s farm to school program, the Harvest of the Month is a delicious way for students to sample fresh, local, seasonal produce items throughout the school year.

The magical pears that 7,000 students sampled this month came from some hometown boys- Grayson and Cody Curtis of Bonanza Gardens.

These brothers were raised right here and attended the very schools that their pears were distributed at.  We caught up with Grayson to find out more about Bonanza Gardens, challenges facing beginning farmers and what’s next for the Curtis brothers.

Cody and Grayson Curtis of Bonanza Gardens (photo by Lauren Scott)

Tell us about the Asian pear orchard- how big is it?  How long has it been established?  What kind of agreement do you have with the landowners and how did you find them?

The Asian pear orchard is approximately 100 trees, and .5 acres. The trees were planted in the mid 1990s so they are around 30 years old. We have a crop share agreement with the landowners, Dave and Terri Sluka. Under our agreement we do all of the major work (pruning, pest control applications, thinning, harvest, sales), and split the proceeds from the crop. Dave and Terri have been great, they are very generous and supportive. They have given us lots of advice from their experience managing the orchard as well as helped us manage irrigation. We found them originally because they wanted someone to prune the orchard, we ended up offering to prune the orchard for free and take on the rest of the management as well. 

Where did you get the name Bonanza Gardens?  Are you doing just fruit or veggies too?  How long have you been farming?

We named ourselves Bonanza Gardens on a whim and as a reflection of the local history. A Bonanza is a stroke of good luck, the word originally comes from the archaic Spanish for fair weather, and entered American English in the goldfields and farms of the American West. Fair weather and good fortune are the about best one can hope for in farming so it seemed like an auspicious name. Considering we got a bumper crop of Asian pears, and Sierra Harvest came through with a place for them to go I’d say the good luck charm worked!

We are growing .75 acres of mixed annual fruits and vegetables (green onions, winter squash, melons, beans, and corn), in addition to managing a 2-acre apple and Asian pear orchard. Both of us have been farmworkers for 5 years, on farms throughout Northern California- including local farms First Rain, Dinner Bell and Super Tuber. We started Bonanza Gardens as a side project while continuing to work for other farmers in June of 2016.

Why did you want to be a part of the Harvest of the Month program?

We wanted to be a part of the program because it was both a great opportunity for us to find an outlet for our pears, and out of excitement at the opportunity to introduce kids to the wonderful world of truly fresh, flavorful, and sustainably produced fruit.

What are your future plans?

We are part of a group of young farmworkers working towards starting a worker cooperative farm. This means each of the workers will share equally in ownership, management, risks and rewards of the farm business. We have a promising land opportunity and hope to be growing fruits and veggies for years to come.

Why do you think sustainable farming is important?

Sustainable farming is important because food, land, and work are important. We are direly in need of creative and constructive alternatives to the conventional and harmful means we produce food, manage land, and work together. We’re motivated by the desire to help make the world a place where the food is good, the land is cared for, and work is fulfilling. 

How can our community help support new and aspiring farmers?

The local community can support new and aspiring farmers a number of ways. Supporting the institutions and business that support small farms. We would be nowhere near as successful without the support and partnership with Sierra Harvest, and the Briar Patch Coop. Both are pillars of the local farming community and deserve support.

Another way to help is to offer resources to aspiring farmers. If you have land available suitable for farming list it on the Sierra Harvest land bank listing, or on California FarmLink. New farmers are often self-financing on a shoestring budget, so offering generous lease terms helps. You might even enjoy having a farmer around.   


Celebrating the Heroes of Sierra Harvest!

September 7, 2017

Honoring Leo Chapman, 2016-17 Volunteer of the Year!

The 3rd Annual Volunteer Celebration and Farm Potluck at the Food Love Farm on August 17th was an extraordinary evening filled with delightful live music, a bountiful shared meal including roasted veggies from the farm, tours of the garden, chair massages, lively conversations amidst the towering flowers while more than 100 guests celebrated our 10th anniversary and honored our exceptional volunteers. 310 volunteers contributed more than 3,800 hours this past year (almost 1,000 more hours than last year) donating their precious time and skills to support our programs helping us to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal food.

The evening culminated with honoring our Volunteer of the Year who donated more than 300 hours of time meeting with landowners to match their interests with farmers, guiding students on farm field trips and building Sierra Gardens for families. If it weren’t for this volunteer, there wouldn’t be a giant picnic table, creative hand washing stations and a new greenhouse out at the Food Love Farm.  This volunteer was a founding member of the Living Lands Agrarian Network (that became Sierra Harvest in 2013) and was often seen wearing a kilt, crocs, a large straw hat and a big smile everywhere he went…we present to you, the Volunteer of the Year – Leo Chapman! 

Leo said in response to why do you devote a big portion of your life to Sierra Harvest, “I do it for the kids!! Having a really special place for the kids to go and explore and see how food is grown, is what drives me to volunteer for Sierra harvest. When I grew up, I had a nature area to explore, and I think that’s what’s given me the passion inside to garden.”

Also a big thanks to The Eclectic Mayhem – Charles and Margaret Callahan, David Robinson, Gianni Romano, and Melissa Ramsey who volunteered to share their talent, voices and musical groove to brighten the party!  And a round of applause also to the wonderful chair massages given by David King.

If you have NOT volunteered with Sierra Harvest yet and would like to get involved, please complete our online volunteer application and we’ll get in touch with you to see where your passion lies!

Volunteer Opportunities include: Tasting Week Chef (Oct. 9-13), Ambassador, Food & Farm Conference, Soup Night, Sierra Garden builds, annual fundraiser, postering, office, photography, and other fun opportunities!

For more info about volunteering contact Miriam Limov at



Cook with Kids  – Volunteer TODAY to be a Tasting Week Chef with Sierra Harvest –!

September 6, 2017

Matthew Willoughby teaching cooking to Grass Valley Charter School students, 2015.

Sierra Harvest seeks  chefs to cook with students and provide tastings in local schools during the week of October 9-13th, 2017.  Share your enthusiasm and skills for local, organic food TODAY!  Sierra Harvest has been bringing guest chefs into classrooms for the last 6 years in 22 schools for K-8 and we would like to offer this opportunity to the high schools as well.  Tasting Week is part of our Farm to School Program and will be offered to more than 3,500 students at 25 western Nevada County schools.  Chefs will demonstrate cooking techniques and engage students in preparation of a dish using seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms containing at least 50% specialty crops by weight.  The tasting is focused on ways to prepare that are fresh and in season. Each chef will deliver four half-hour presentations at each school, serving at least 120 students. Chefs will be compensated $200 per school to purchase ingredients for their tasting and cooking demonstration.  Read more about the experience on our website and see all the recipe books that have been produced over the last few years. what-we-do-2/farm-to-school/ tasting-week/

Email Miriam Limov at if you are interested in inspiring our youth to get excited about eating locally and seasonally!


Farm to School is Back in Action!

August 31, 2017

Bell Hill students enjoying the farm cart produce.

Another school year has begun, and with it, another year of farm to school!  Now in its 10th year, the program has grown from humble beginnings working on a school garden at Hennessey Elementary to serving 96% of the K-8 population in Western Nevada County with a whole range of programming!  As this year gets under way, liaisons from 21 schools are getting everything together to make this the best year yet.Keep your eyes peeled for garden carts brimming with local produce, with new A frame chalkboard signs letting you know what’s fresh today in farm to school.  Or perhaps you’re signing a permission slip to send your child on a farm field trip to harvest seasonal foods, meet animals and learn about where our food comes from and the people who grow it! Don’t be surprised if your child asks for Asian Pears since they were part of the first Harvest of the Month tasting.

Fall is the prime time for farm to school- with a bounty of local food to sample it’s the tastiest time of year!  So, even though the temps don’t quite feel like fall yet (come on cool breezes!) the abundance of this time of year is here and our students are benefiting.   Stay tuned in the coming weeks to see how this year unfolds.  Farmers, guest chefs, field trips, garden carts, school lunch- there are so many tasty ways to bring the farm to school!