Sierra Harvest & Nevada County School Food Services Agency awarded California Farm-to-School Incubator Grant for Foothills Fresh Program

Foothills Fresh, the collaboration to bring farm-fresh scratch-cooked school meals to all students in Western Nevada County just received a $488,000 California Farm to School Incubator Grant award. The Nevada County School Food Services Agency, a partnership between eight school districts and the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, was formed July 1, 2022 to support all students getting access to scratch-cooked meals using fresh, regional foods. The funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture was a competitive grant with only 37% of applicants receiving funding and was designed to facilitate innovative farm-to-school partnerships that benefit multiple school districts, a county office of education, and non-profits in their mission to provide nutrition education, fresh CA grown food in school meals and capacity building for scratch cooked culinary programs through long term partnerships. The collaboration between Nevada County School Food Services Agency, Sierra Harvest, the Chef Ann Foundation, and Kitchen Table Advisors can now move forward with this funding to improve not only the quality of food on the plate but implement more sustainable and environmental systems reducing food waste and the use of plastic packaging.

Aimee Retzler, Executive Director of Sierra Harvest was thrilled to be a grantee and to be seen as a leader in the farm-to-school movement across California. “Western Nevada County schools have enjoyed a farm to-school program for 14 years where students have fallen in love with local, fresh fruits and vegetables, and many students have access to weekly garden lessons and trips to our educational Food Love Farm. The missing link has been freshly prepared, scratch-cooked meals available to all students, not just those students who have kitchens in their schools. This funding allows the agency and its partners the opportunity to increase equity in their meal services by working together to build capacity and financial stability through innovation”.

An initial assessment conducted in 2021 by the Chef Ann Foundation, a nationally recognized leader in scratch cooked school food operations, identified possible ways of creating a model for Western Nevada County schools using a partnership approach leveraging the power of multiple school districts. Scott Lay, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools shared that, “securing this grant through our partnership with Sierra Harvest keeps us moving towards the goal of providing healthier scratch style cooking for our students”

School districts all over Northern California are now implementing scratch cooking models into their existing operations. For example, Kat Soltanmorad, Food & Nutrition Services Director and Registered Dietitian for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, has been working to create such a model over the last ten years. Students and parents support and prefer fresh made meals using locally grown ingredients in their menus. Farm to school principals drive the menu and entrees offered, especially offering seasonal produce that offers a superior quality in taste and affordability.

Here in Western Nevada County, a pilot program of Foothills Fresh was tested in 2017-18 between Nevada Union High School and the Nevada City School District to serve freshly made meals including salads from scratch that were not wrapped individually in plastic. This pilot was made possible by the collaborative effort between Sierra Harvest and NJUHSD, which began in 2014. The grant is an opportunity to build on that foundation and look to the future of a full scratch cooking model for Pre-K – 12 students in Western Nevada County.

And for all of the parents out there who are tired of figuring out what to pack for your child’s lunch, please go thank your superintendent and school administration for being leaders in the scratch cooking movement. Watch our 1 min film “Making Your Own” and Endorse the Movement to show your support.