Saying Goodbye to Sierra Gardens

Victoria Chacon (volunteer) and Leo Chapman (past Sierra Garden Coordinator) installing a Sierra Garden.

Since the Sierra Gardens Program was launched eight years ago, 119 veggie gardens have been installed across Nevada County to homeowners, renters, local organizations and institutions, with the vision that community members would learn to love the benefits of growing their own fresh, local food.   We have loved hearing from participants about the joy of growing their own veggies, how they started eating more vegetables at home, and how these gardens have given them a new space to unwind and recharge.

While these unique gardens have touched the lives of thousands of adults and children, there were also real challenges for others in maintaining the gardens without continued assistance.  After much reflection, we are now transitioning away from the Sierra Gardens program as we explore how to best support the community at large in getting their hands on their own freshly grown veggies.  A recent partnership with Interfaith Food Ministry in a 6-month community centered design process will inform this evolution.

We have clearly seen how the Sierra Gardens experience has changed the lives of people in our community.  One single mother told us that the garden was a “God send” when money was tight and the garden provided abundant fresh food for her family.   A retiree shared how tending her garden kept her going day after day in the isolation and uncertainty of the early pandemic.  A toddler with a severe developmental disability ate food for the first time away from his mother – a fresh strawberry from the garden – at his daycare center.  A local woman lost over 50 pounds when she started planning her meals around what was growing in the garden.  The stories go on and on! 

The very last build the Sierra Gardens team completed was installed in July – 10 garden beds at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, where it will serve as the foundation for the hospital’s vision to offer garden-based nutrition education and a beautiful space for patients, visitors and staff to enjoy. We are incredibly grateful for Malaika Bishop and Leo Chapman for their vision to launch the Sierra Gardens Program in 2014, and for the community of volunteers and donors who have supported this work for so many years.   We want to give a very heart-filled thanks to Edy Cassell who has lovingly stewarded the program since 2016 and has invested her passion, creativity and care to empower so many in growing their own food.  Our gratitude also goes out to Dylan Drummond, David Fernandez and Claudio Mendoca, program assistants and of course to the “dream team” core volunteer crew who have invested hundreds of hours into these gardens so that others could grow their own food, including ‘Gate Master Larry’ Diminyatz, ‘Side Hill Matt’ Marquet and ‘Heart Love Christian’ Gutt, as well as Suzanna Elkin, Steve Danner, and Karen Wcisclo.