Updates & Helpful Tips

Updates & Helpful Tips

Gardening in a Time of Climate Change, Wild Fires, and Smoke: This Season’s Most Common Questions Answered!

Edy Cassell, Community Progarams Manager at Sierra Harvest

How is wildfire smoke affecting the plants in my garden?

This is a valid question and one I hear (and ask) a lot.

Falling ash and particulate matter coating the surface of your plants has the potential to inhibit photosynthesis in plants by clogging the stomata, thus slowing growth and production somewhat. An easy solution is to spray off your plants if you see a dusting of ash. Ash, dust and particulates can also infiltrate your house, so your house plants will appreciate a good dusting as well. Heavy smoke cover may have a similar effect, but a surprising amount of light does get through, so even a day that feels hazy and smoky may not be impacting the plants too badly. Have you ever gotten a sunburn on a foggy day? It’s kinda like that. If the sky is not actually dark it is likely that natural processes of photosynthesis are not being terribly inhibited. It has actually been found that the increased Carbon Monoxide in the atmosphere can be good for plants and encourage growth, as long as there is sufficient light.

Continue reading “Gardening in a Time of Climate Change, Wild Fires, and Smoke: This Season’s Most Common Questions Answered!”

Malaika’s pursuing her dream at Bluebird Farm

After serving as co-director Malaika Bishop stepped into a part-time roll at Sierra Harvest last March in order to pursue her dream of starting a farm venture. We caught up with her to see how it’s going.

Tell us about your farm and where you are farming.

Bluebird farm focusses on greens and flowers. I have four part-time employees and we are growing ½ acre of flowers up at the Jacobson Dude Ranch on Cement Hill Rd and 1 acre of lettuce and cutting greens at Woolman at Sierra Friends Center.

Woolman burned in the Jones Fire in 2020. We spent last season working to rebuild and expand the farm site at Woolman last season and weren’t able to get anything in the ground until late Oct, so this is really our first full growing season. There is still a lot of infrastructure to be built but we are making it work.

What has been most challenging about farming so far?

Balancing the budget. In 20 years of running non-profits I saw some challenging budgets, but those pale in comparison to balancing a first year farm budget. I am holding out hope that it will get easier!

Waiting[MB1]  a year for FEMA to clean up the fire debris on the farm site and now waiting on plans and grading to rebuild farm sheds has slowed down the timing on rebuilding the site and is pushing some of those winter projects into the main growing season. It is going to get REALLY busy!

What has been most rewarding?

Getting to finally grow and sell a few crops late last fall. Seeing beautiful rows of salad mix in the hoop house and long rows of ranunculus popping up this spring. It is going to be ridiculously beautiful.

Working hard with an amazing crew outdoors every day and seeing the transformation from a disaster zone to a beautiful cover cropped farm site.

Why the name Bluebird Farm?

Many people remember our farm site up at Jacobson’s fondly as Bluebird from the days that Leo Chapman and Tim Van Wagner farmed there during the Living Lands Agrarian Network days when we had potlucks and contra dances with 100 people there. (We merged Living Lands and Live Healthy Nevada County to create Sierra Harvest) We are bringing back the name Bluebird and using it for the whole farm.

Where can people get your products?
Well, we are partnering with Tim of First Rain Farm and Leo of Chapman Family farm on a collaborative Community Supported Agriculture box. You can sign up on the First Rain Farm website for a weekly installment of veggies. We will be growing the greens mostly (salad mix, lettuce, arugula, spinach etc).

You can treat yourself or a loved one to a FLOWER share and get a weekly installment of flowers all season long. Maybe a Valentine’s gift? You can sign up at bluebirdfarm.net . Full season shares are going fast, so don’t wait too long.

Mostly we will be selling our greens wholesale so you will see them at your local restaurants, schools, grocery stores etc.

What are you most excited about growing this season?

Veggies: I have to say I am excited to geek out on growing straight beautiful rows of greens really efficiently. The lettuce mix we are growing is out of this world delicious. We are growing it using a paperpot transplanter. I was a sceptic at first but am totally sold now.  

Flowers: It is so hard to pick one flower with over 120 varieties but because they will be here first, I’m going to go with ranunculus. To die for, and a big feature of our spring flower bouquets!

After so many years doing farm education, is there any education in the future of Bluebird?

Why yes in fact! We are partnering with Sierra Harvest to host a field day for the upcoming farm conference March 3rd where you can learn about how to build start-up farm infrastructure and some of our favorite time saving tools we have built and purchased. We will be joined by Prema Farm from the Reno area who have many more years and farm hacks under their belts.

We will be also partnering with Woolman on their programming as they get up and running bringing school groups from the Bay Area up to campus to learn about Social and Environmental Justice. There will be a food justice component on the farm that we are excitedly building curriculum for. Also, participants of their summer camp will get to participate in farm activities in June and July. They are also hosting local school groups to do day long field trips on campus.


Eric Ove: Cooking up Skills for Lifetime of Health at Brighter Futures for Youth

By Olivia Steele

Eric Ove, who “reads a cookbook like a mystery novel,” is Bright Futures for Youth’s (BFFY) first-ever full-time Kitchen and Nutrition Program Manager.  Eric says his passion for the power of deliciously nutritious food was born when he fully understood how “the right blending of flavors, aromas, and textures can create a memorable and even healing experience.” With experience in some of Nevada County’s most beloved restaurants and time spent as a supervisor in a children’s educational and behavioral program, he was made for the job.

Marrying the value of fresh, whole foods with exploration of adventurous, multi-cultural flavors and the appeal of comfort foods, Eric encourages expansive imagination in meals. The youth get to experience the magic of adding cinnamon and cocoa powder to chili, or even deconstructing shepherd’s pie into a medley of lemon mint peas, garlic scallion mashed potatoes, and red-wine spiced beef and pork filling. Seeing the joy and inspiration that kids bring to the plate reminds Eric that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

Eric’s dreams continue to fuel his work, he has goals to offer as many as four cooking classes per month inspired by student curiosity, homestead storage expertise, and skills that encourage food knowledge and independence for life. Each class offered is tailored to support confidence, skill, understanding, and enthusiasm – ranging from classes on balancing price and quality for ingredients to classes on “how to turn a pumpkin into a pie.”

In between cooking and serving 150 meals a week, Eric is making moves to develop a no-questions-asked food pantry where youth can grab shelf-stable, nutritious food any day they need. In 2021, through gleaning and local farm efforts, Sierra Harvest was able to send 28,343 pounds of produce to Interfaith Food Ministry. Eric decided to utilize the goods from IFM to implement a dehydration program, producing orange vanilla dehydrated apples, black pepper and thyme strawberries, and even a “warming winter strawberry granola with delightfully spicy strawberry chips.” We’re so thankful for community members like Eric who cultivate working relationships with local farms and organizations to provide not only nutritious, heart-healthy meals to youth – but to also demystify “acquired tastes” and encourage exploration into rich tastes and fearless flavors.

Be a Hero – Apply to be a Volunteer Harvest Leader
for the 2022 Gold Country Gleaning Season!

Pick fruit, meet new friends, explore our stunning county and donate the fruit to those in need (plus take a wee bit home for you) – Wow! What a remarkable volunteer opportunity this is and it could be yours!  We are seeking passionate and enthusiastic volunteers who can commit to picking and/or leading a crew of volunteers at least twice a month June to November. You will pick fruit that would otherwise go to waste from Nevada County farms and home orchards and deliver it to Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) to be distributed to folks in our community.  In 2021 volunteers picked and donated more than 28,000 pounds to IFM – be a part of this awesome team! To be a volunteer Harvest Leader for the 2022 Sierra Harvest Gold Country Gleaning season, check out the job description and contact Edy at edy@sierraharvest.org to apply.

Contact Edy by May 13! Three required trainings for Harvest Leaders begins in late May.

Grow Your Own! Let Sierra Harvest Build your Garden!

Do you love fresh homegrown veggies? Do you need help getting a garden built? Or do you already have a garden, but need support with seeds, starts, amendments, or irrigation? If so, the Sierra Gardens program can help!

We offer package deals to build your garden and then offer ongoing support in the form of seasonally delivered seeds and starts, irrigation, mentoring, and classes. The average garden size is 16×16, but we will work with your specific situation. Boxes are not included but can be built for an additional cost. The satisfaction of having a garden goes beyond having fresh homegrown food to eat… you become connected to a natural system that can provide hours of enjoyment!

Here’s what Sierra Garden recipient Annette Muller had to say about her garden last year:

“I just wanted to let you know how much we are enjoying our garden. And not just the abundance of the amazing fruit it’s bearing, but the simple act of witnessing its growth – who knew my greatest summer entertainment would be watching squash plants flower?! There’s nothing like stepping into the garden to a hundred bees humming to make you feel alive :)”

Fill out the application here to have us come do a site visit and give you a quote! https://sierraharvest.org/connect/grow-your-own-food/ (scroll to the bottom of the Sierra Gardens web page for application)

Rooting Out Racism and Planting Justice

By Sarah Arndt

For those of us who are white and who also identify as farmers, land stewards, and good food advocates, what does it look like to understand, uproot, and transform a cultural inheritance of white supremacy into an embodied practice of liberation, abundance, and justice? One of our white farm educators reflects on the intersection of farming and anti-racism and what white people and white-led/white-dominant organizations need to do to root out racism…

My name is Sarah Arndt and I’m a farm educator at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm. I’ve worked as an educator, facilitator, and advocate at the intersection of food, youth, and education for the last decade. My experience at the farm has also been shaped by my passion for transformation, healing, and accountability as an everyday practice in service to racial justice and collective liberation. As a white cis woman working in mostly mission-driven and non-profit spaces, this practice requires being in constant relationship with the question, “what does it look like to understand, uproot, and transform a cultural inheritance of white supremacy into an embodied practice of liberation, abundance, and justice?” 

Continue reading “Rooting Out Racism and Planting Justice”

Honoring Anita Smith: A Centerpiece of Food and Care at Silver Springs School

Marty Mathiesen, Principal, Silver Springs High School

Anita Smith was a dear friend and centerpiece of the Silver Springs High School staff.  

Anita was the lead person with food services at the high school, but to Silver kids and staff, she was a lot more.  Anita knew every kid in school and she felt a personal responsibility that each and every student was cared for and had plenty to eat.  Students and families under the poverty line are supported by a free and reduced price meal program which means the cost of student meals is covered by the state.  Silver Springs High School is identified as an entire school that meets that criteria. 

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Health Care For Future Generations Through the Sierra Harvest Heirloom Legacy Circle

By Janice Bedan

In the earliest days of the Sierra Harvest Farm to School program, volunteer Sandra Barrington saw children get excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and encouraging their classmates to just try it!  She immediately understood the impact of this program.

“Good health starts in childhood, where good habits can influence your entire life.

Continue reading “Health Care For Future Generations Through the Sierra Harvest Heirloom Legacy Circle”

Celebrating our Volunteer of the Year, Kwong Chew: Six years of service and counting

By Aimee Retzler

Kwong Chew joined the Sierra Harvest board in October 2015 when the board was only two years old.  At first I remember thinking, ‘Wow he talks really fast and has one million good ideas.  How will I ever keep up with him?’ 

I watched him join the finance and strategic planning committees offering value, input and oftentimes challenging our thought processes to move beyond the semantics, the details.  Sometimes I remember feeling frustrated that I often didn’t really understand what Kwong was trying to convey to me because he thinks at the speed of light and can see potential so clearly.  I saw him donate his time and resources over and over again to the benefit of the people Sierra Harvest serves.  He has diplomatically pushed the organization to consider new ideas and was instrumental in starting our investment committee and formulating our policy.

Kwong thrives in the realm of possibilities twenty-four seven.  He deeply cares about every single one of our employees and their own health and general welfare. He asks the tough questions and actually listens to the response.

I am so grateful for Kwong and his six years of service to Sierra Harvest and this community.  His energy, passion and willingness to help are hallmarks of what being in service to others means.  Kwong has made a huge difference in the evolution of Sierra Harvest helping us grow from simple concepts to a well-respected nonprofit.  Because of this, we celebrate Kwong Chew as Sierra Harvest’s Volunteer of the Year.  I feel so lucky that you will continue on the board and I thank you for your incredible service to this community.   

More than a Snapshot: A Lifelong Commitment to Service

By Dana Frasz

For Sandra Boyd, there is nothing quite like her grandmother’s raspberry jam, and she loves a stir-fry with fresh veggies. She grew up in Nevada City in a family who valued health, and therefore good food.

“We spent our days visiting local farms, gathering fruit and vegetables.” Her grandmother would preserve the food for the winter, and her grandfather would process through his juicer invention – long before it was hip!

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Most people love garlic for its pungent and sometimes spicy flavor, and the fullness it adds to dishes when it is used. Many claims are made as to garlic’s healing properties and immune booster qualities. I am a believer and a big fan of the Alliums in general (plants in the onion family). There are some rogues out there, those odd people who you can’t quite trust who for whatever reason hate garlic.  In my house, those people will be disappointed (though still welcomed), since I add garlic to most dishes at a rate far higher than is generally recommended in recipes!

I am always happy to put my garden to bed for the winter after a long season of planting, tending and harvesting. Planting my garlic each fall is symbolic of that seasonal change…it is essentially the last thing I do before stepping aside for shorter days and colder nights.