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!


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.