Purchase Contracts with Local Farmers Bring Nourishment & Resilience

Nicole McNeely, Executive Director of the Nevada County Food Bank, is not only passionate about feeding people in need, but she is committed to building a more resilient local food future that benefits everyone.  Over the last two years, Nicole has made purchasing contracts with local farmers for upwards of 6 tons worth of fresh, local food for weekly food distributions, building mutually beneficial relationships with farmers and ranchers, feeding those in need the highest quality food, and bringing thousands of dollars into our local economy. This holiday season we caught up with Nicole to learn more about how she does this for our community.

Thanksgiving is one of your busiest times of year.  How many families did you serve for the holiday?

We provided the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner to about 1,300 families, representing about 4,000 community members.  We had help from upwards of 60 volunteers, including the Grass Valley Rotary, it was an amazing turnout!

With those kinds of numbers, how do you manage to incorporate fresh, local food into your distributions?

We get funding from the state department of social services to purchase fresh foods, with the stipulation that 51% of it has to be purchased from California farmers.  I realized during my second year on the job that I could use this money to support our local farmers!  So I reached out to Lauren Scott at Sierra Harvest and she jumped in head first and pieced together an outline of what items farms had available and when.  

Once I saw what was possible, I decided to save this money and spend it with local farmers during the late fall and winter months, when we typically don’t get much produce donated from the USDA Donate Don’t Dump Program.  This has enabled me to purchase seasonal produce like butternut squash, mandarins and lemons from Johansen Family Farm, beets and cilantro from First Rain Farm, carrots and cabbage from Super Tuber Farm, and produce boxes from Mountain Bounty Farm.  We’ve also purchased meat from AM Ranch and Nevada County Free Range Beef.  

What difference does this fresh, local food make for your clients?

The majority of locally sourced food is organic, and we know that when we aren’t poisoning our land and our bodies, it creates longevity for the environment and for our families.   We are very fortunate to have so many local farmers and the ability to purchase their food for our clients.  Anytime you are giving fresh, local produce to those in need – especially to children, seniors, or those with health conditions – you are taking care of others.

Why is it important to support local farmers?

I grew up in Nevada County, so this is my home, these are my people, this is my place.  We could actually produce enough food to feed our community, and if I can bolster the food production in this area through creating more purchasing contracts with our farmers, then that just helps us get closer to self-sufficiency. 

Also, bringing this money into our economy creates more local revenue and jobs.  At the Food Bank we see a lot of people who are struggling to make ends meet, and if I can use these funds in the community,  it will stimulate economic growth and produce more jobs. 

We are grateful for Nicole McNeely and her team at the Nevada County Food Bank, especially this holiday season, for all the ways they help support the Nevada County community! Find out more about how can get involved in their work here. Join Nicole and Sierra Harvest in supporting our Nevada County farmers and cook with our delicious, local, seasonal foods.