Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Program Celebrates 10 Years!

Camper at the Food Love Farm, 2018

School is back in session, and with it another year of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program.  2019 marks 10 years of Farm to School education in our local schools!  From its humble beginnings as a volunteer effort to start a school garden, the program has grown to serve over 7000 students at 32 schools in western Nevada County.  The program offers monthly produce tastings through the Harvest of the Month, cooking lessons with guest chefs, farm field trips, weekly produce carts in the fall, farmer classroom visits, plant sales and support for school gardens.  To celebrate this awesome milestone, we’ve compiled a list of Farm to School moments throughout the years.

2009 Volunteers with Live Healthy Nevada County create a school garden at Hennessey Elementary.  First official farm to school field trip happens in July at Riverhill Farm and the first Harvest of the Month tasting happens at Hennessey Elementary School where the students tasted carrots from Mountain Bounty Farm and apples from Bierwagons.

2010 Living Lands Agrarian Network breaks ground for the Food Love Farm site using horsepower!  They also provide farmer classroom visits at Nevada City Elementary, Gold Run and Deer Creek.  Live Healthy Nevada County presents “Nevada County Cooks! School Food Summit” to bring stakeholders together to brainstorm around school food plans.

2011 The Food Love Farm hosts its first year of field trips, serving over 1,000 kids and community members.  The farm offers produce at a roadside stand by donation.  Tasting Week, a celebration of local food, where guest chefs come into schools to do cooking classes with the kids, was launched.

2012 Live Healthy Nevada County receives CFDA grant to launch a complete Farm to School program in 12 schools!  Harvest of the Month kicks off with 1,000 pounds of local organic mandarins served to 4,000 students.  The Food Love Farm starts doing U-pick veggies every Tuesday during the growing season.

2013 The Farm to School program extends to 19 schools offering garden carts, farmer classroom visits, and field trips to partner farms. Live Healthy Nevada County and Living Lands Agrarian Network merge to become Sierra Harvest!

2014- Tasting Week (where guest chefs teach hands-on cooking demos in classrooms) is a huge hit now at 19 schools, as are 2 “lunch for dinner” events at Ready Springs and Seven Hills promoting scratch-cooked lunch options.

2015– A whopping 22 schools are on board with Farm to School!   That’s 96% of the K-8 population in Western Nevada County!  Harvest of the Month gets a little more adventurous with students sampling jicama, microgreens and cabbage. Fifteen local farmers are partnered with schools.

2016– Sierra Harvest receives more funding through CDFA to continue Farm to School programming, helping cafeterias and institutions source local and regional foods. High schools get involved with student-led tastings and scratch-cooked meal options at Nevada Union, Silver Springs, and Bear River HS.  California Thursdays launches district wide.  Food Love Farm now takes SNAP benefits!

2017– Foothills Fresh pilot program launches serving lunches at Deer Creek and 7 Hills.  Participation increases by 106%!  Junior Iron Chef Program gets high school culinary students cooking up a storm.  79% of students try something new through Harvest of the Month (that could be because kumquats were served this year!)

2018-19 After serving up more than 73,000 pounds of food to local students, Farm to school gets a makeover!  After 10 years, schools now have the option to choose the elements of farm to school that work best for their school!  Schools have access to Harvest of the Month, guest chefs, farmer visits, farm field trips, school garden carts, plant sales and garden education support.  Briar Patch Coop has partnered to cover the cost of Harvest of the Month as a business sponsor! 

There have been so many impacts of Sierra Harvest’s farm to school program, it’s impossible to keep it all in a neat chronological list.  But when you think about the success of the programming, it’s vital to understand the role of the Farm to School liaison position and our farm partners.

The farm to school liaisons and farm partners are what make the whole program work!  These champions are the heart of it all: physically picking up and distributing produce, teaching students, hosting field trips and being true advocates for this work at their schools and farms.  It’s definitely a labor of love. 

Liaison and teacher Jaimi Giguere from Williams Ranch had this to say, “This is my fifth year as a Sierra Harvest liaison and I continue to marvel at how important this program is for my school.  When I first started it was clear how removed our students were from local and fresh food, but five years in, I see great change.  There are so many components to the program that benefit our students, but I think that Harvest of the Month has been the most profound on our site.  I have witnessed students, families, and staff exclaim how they have tried something new.  They have been especially surprised at how much they enjoy fresh vegetables.   Students have been excited to share their experience with their families and have even demanded items for dinner!  Parents have proclaimed that their child wouldn’t eat a variety of fruits and vegetables at home, but the experiences that Sierra Harvest provide encourages a social acceptance toward these foods and the children are often excited to try and discover a new love for a new food. “

It has been said that it takes 10 years to “succeed overnight.”  The students who started this programming in kindergarten are now entering high school.  Knowing who their local farmers are is ingrained.  Trying new fruits and vegetables is normal.  There’s so much delicious momentum that has been built, who knows what impacts these students will have when they bring their Farm to School foundation out into the world.  Luckily, we won’t have to wait too long to find out!

Tasting day at Williams Ranch School 2017
Tasting Day at Williams Ranch School, 2017