Planting the seed to grow up strong, healthy

By Laura Brown
Special to The Union

An effort to connect area school children with farmers is poised to expand in big ways next school year thanks to more funding and the involvement of two women with years of farm experience and a passion for locally grown food.

In the past year, seven area schools connected with local farms by going on field trips and hosting campus farm carts laden with fresh produce and veggie starts, as part of a pilot farm-to-school program headed up by Live Healthy Nevada County.

Beginning next fall, a funding stream increased threefold — from $10,000 to $30,000 — means 10 kindergarten through grade eight schools and 10 local organic family farms will partner in the program.

Live Healthy Nevada County is an organization that aims to educate families living in Western Nevada County about the fresh, local and seasonal foods growing right in their own communities.

Besides Live Healthy NC’s farm to school program, a food at school committee is actively engaged in discussions with school leaders to consider the feasibility of bringing back scratch cooking to area schools.

Since January, co-chairs of the farm to school program, Amanda Thibodeau and Malaika Bishop have worked together brainstorming and hammering out ambitious plans for next year.

Both women, well connected in the farming community and farmers themselves, have worked separately on similar educational projects for several years, linking schools and farms through fieldtrips.

“It was a natural fit to take what we were doing and sort of broaden it out,” said Bishop.

“You have to have a big vision in order to do anything. We have that part,” Thibodeau said.

Bishop has been involved with school and farm related activities for a decade. She helped found the Peoples’ Grocery in West Oakland, providing healthy, affordable food to inner city neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores.

For the last five years she has managed the farm at the Woolman School, a Quaker-based nature, peace and social justice study program for high school students located on a 230-acre property near the South Yuba River.

Experiences that allow children to dig in the earth, plant a seed and watch it grow can be life-changing for young people whose only previous concept of food came from a store-bought package.

“We’re becoming more and more disconnected from our food system and where our food comes from,” Bishop said.

In 2010, Thibodeau started the Food Love Project, a Living Lands Agrarian Network educational farm located on the Bear Yuba Land Trust’s Burton Property on Lake Vera Road.

Thibodeau has worked as a partner with Deer Creek and Lyman Gilmore schools, leading busloads of children on farm field trips and providing fresh produce for school garden carts.

“We liked it because kids would come out on field trips and harvest food that was sold on the farm cart the next day,” Thibodeau said.

In the spring the garden carts are filled with veggie starts to encourage families to start a home garden. In the fall, the carts are laden with produce from farms, school and neighborhood gardens. Those who take from the cart are asked to leave a donation if they can afford to.

There is already a buzz among parents and teachers from Clear Creek School who are excited about partnering with nearby Four Frog Farm next year. The rural school of 166 students is already familiar with growing food. Many students are involved with 4-H programs, and in the school garden, they grow lettuce and radishes for salads, strawberries and Halloween pumpkins.

“It’s going to make a great addition to what we’re doing here,” said Principal Scott Lay.

For “Pablo” Paul Wilkin, owner of Four Frog Farm, the partnership is a “cosmic coincidence” because it allows him to give back to a school that his two daughters once attended. It also helps fulfill part of the farm’s mission to reach out and educate the community about sustainably grown organic food and possibly encourage a new generation of farmers.

“It’s definitely a goal of the farm to influence the young people,” Wilkin said.

Farmers like Wilkin who partner with schools will benefit in several ways. Live Healthy NC will pay each farm partner for produce they supply, field trips and school visits. Farmers will get publicity for their farm on the Live Healthy NC website and at each farm cart they contribute vegetables or plant starts to. In turn, farmers could gain superstar status in the eyes of children.

Each school that signs up for the program will receive a $1,000 budget to spend on a whole menu of programming such as farm field trips, farmer visits, farm carts, tastings, nutrition education and guest chef cooking demonstrations.

Thibodeau and Bishop will train volunteer farm liaisons from each school, most likely interested parents, to lead field trips designed to meet standard curriculum requirements. In return, liaisons will receive a modest stipend for their time.

This month, Bishop’s schedule is busy. She will lead 10 farm field trips for Yuba River Charter School students. On a recent trip to the Woolman farm, first grade students planted winter squash, harvested herbs for making herb butter and visited with goats, pigs and chickens.

“They’re soft and I get to pet them,” said Joshua Dahlstrom, 8, who happily followed baby goats around on a sunny morning.

At home, the Dahlstrom family harvests vegetables from their backyard garden and brings home boxes of produce from a local farm CSA, said Joshua’s mother, Keri Dahlstrom.

“I think it’s great for kids to learn where their food comes from,” she said.

For more information about Live Healthy Nevada County visit:

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at or 401-4877