Volunteer Spotlight:  Dick Yates – Our Gleaning Website Rock Star!

Dick yates - volunteer gleaning website designer 2019While creating the new gleaning program at Sierra Harvest, we researched other group’s websites and discovered similarities between several of them because it turns out, they were designed by the same incredible volunteer – Dick Yates, who created the original site for Salem Harvest, the largest gleaning organization in Salem, Oregon.

We reached out to Dick to create a website-database system to improve the efficiency and continue the awesome work of the Gold Country Gleaning Program which rescues food that may have gone to waste and distributes it to those in need.   He more than willingly jumped in designing the system to meet our needs exactly, training our volunteer Harvest Leaders and providing technical support anytime…and all as a volunteer!

How long have you been gleaning and why did you start gleaning in your area? 

I have been gleaning with Salem Harvest since 2010. Salem Harvest began when four neighbors noticed backyard fruit trees with fruit going to waste and they organized a neighborhood project. Once a website was set up, the project grew quickly and now rescues 400,000 pounds of food in the Salem area every year.

Why did you create the Gleanweb site and what’s your background? Salem Harvest’s success was directly related to the efficiencies provided by the website. We thought that other gleaning organizations could also benefit and so I began offering to set up sites for them. I had no background in it and was interested in learning website and database design.  I then learned on my own from reference books and deconstructing existing websites.

What is a memorable experience as a Salem Harvest gleaner?

Salem Harvest invites volunteers to write thank you notes at gleans for the crop owners. One little girl wrote “Thanks for the delicious cherries. Because of you I won’t be hungry today.”

How many Gleanweb sites have you created and how much produce has been recorded as gleaned after you helped a variety of communities?

There are currently about 12 Gleanweb installations. Since 2010 they have rescued about 8.5 million pounds of food altogether – 2 million pounds just in 2018!

What do you enjoy most about being the Gleanweb designer?

Working with people from places all over the country (from Hawaii to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts) and being able to incorporate what they are doing into the software so that other organizations might benefit.

We are incredibly grateful to Dick for his exceptional volunteer support allowing us to increase our efficiencies in recruitment of volunteers, gleaning hosts, and managing data which ultimately yields in nourishing more Nevada County residents.

Sierra Harvest’s Gold Country Gleaning Program organizes volunteers to harvest fresh, seasonal produce that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to Interfaith Food Ministry which distributes to over 8,000 residents in need.  In its first season in 2018, volunteers gleaned more than 10,800 pounds of produce and we are on track to surpass that amount this year with the aid of the new website! Click here to sign up to be a gleaning volunteer, or a gleaning host.  If you are interested in getting trained to be a volunteer Harvest Leader, email today!

The Biggest Little Farm – Sept. 6th at the Nevada Theater

Get your tickets for this special screening of the award winning documentary, The Biggest Little Farm and support Sierra Harvest at the same time!

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles the eight-year quest of John and Molly Chester as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature. Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature’s conflicts, the Chesters unlock and uncover a biodiverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and their wildest imaginations. Featuring breathtaking cinematography, captivating animals, and an urgent message to heed Mother Nature’s call, The Biggest Little Farm provides us all a vital blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.

The screening will be followed by a Question and Answer panel with Sierra Harvest Co-Director Malaika Bishop, Aleta and Ken Barrett of Starbright Acres Family Farm, and David Benson, Produce Manager of the BriarPatch Food Co-op.

All ticket proceeds go towards the Sierra Harvest Farm Institute, providing business and ag-skills training for new and aspiring farmers.

Where: Nevada Theater, 401 Broad Street, Nevada City

When: Friday, Sept. 6 @ 6:30,PM, Q/A with local farmers to follow

Price: $10/general, $4/ages 21 and under (all proceeds go directly to Sierra Harvest)

Advance tickets on sale now through the Onyx Theatre website, at the Onyx Theatre box office (opens at 12:40 every day), or at the Nevada Theater the evening of the event. Tickets here

This event is co-presented by Onyx Theater, Nevada City Film Festival, BriarPatch Food Co-op, and Sierra Harvest. Watch the trailer here: Running Time of Film: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

“In its modest way, “The Biggest Little Farm” offers hope, and even suggests a way forward.” – G Allen Johnson, SF CHRONICLE

See you there!

Meet our 2019 Farm Crew!

Sierra Harvest Farm Institute offers a program for aspiring farmers, featuring hands-on training and supported learning.  The farm crew member is job matched with local sustainable farms willing to provide them with a positive and successful start in market farming. Farm Crew members also participate in our advanced production skills courses, taught by successful local farmers in their field of expertise.  The subjects covered are transplanting, irrigation, fertilization, successive planting, compost making, extending seasons and more. The classes are open to the public.  Check out our class offerings here.

Our 2019 Farm Crew members have already proven themselves to be quick learners and hard workers and have become an integral part of their farm’s crews.   These folks may go on to manage their own farms or become important team members of our already existing farms.  Educated and inspired farm community members add to the health of our local food system.  So meet our Sierra Harvest Farm Crew Members:

Abigail o'rourke 2019 farm crew at dinner bellAbigail O’Rourke is an employee of Dinner Bell Farm in Chicago Park.  Dinner Bell’s main crops are pigs and flowers.  Owner Molly Nakahara is an in-demand wedding floral designer.

Abigail is an upbeat, ready to learn kind of woman.  Previously, she managed an off-grid mountain farm in the Panamanian mountains and it was an experience never to be forgotten.  Her interest in agriculture has continued to grow, finally culminating while attending the Sierra Harvest Food and Farm Conference last February, and listening to the conference keynote speakers. She experienced a feeling of being in the right place at the right time.  It became clear to her that being a steward of the land was an important part of her future.

Abigail says “I have big dreams and am certain that this program will be an irreversibly strong step towards accomplishing them. “

Connor Fornier - stone's throw farmConnor Fournier works at Stone’s Throw Farm, an abundant vegetable and flower farm in Colfax, CA.  You can find their products at the Auburn Saturday market and the Truckee Tuesday market.

Connor grew up in Nevada County, born and raised in Grass Valley.  At a recent meeting with his host farm he was given high marks on all aspects of his farming skills, ability to communicate and being an excellent team member.

Connor says “I have been around agriculture my whole life.  For the past three years I have focused my free-time towards improving my agricultural knowledge and skill-set, from an organic standpoint. I am really excited to be partnered with a farm that focuses on organic clean growing and living soil.”

Katie Thomas - starbright acres family farm 2019 farm crewKatie Thomas is a strong team member of Starbright Acres Family FarmStarbright has approximately five part-time and full-time employees.  They sell to grocery stores and restaurants and at two local farmer’s markets, as well as operating their own farm stand on Polaris Dr., Grass Valley.

Before moving to Nevada County to take place in the Farm Crew program, Katie a pprenticed on a farm in Boulder, CA., owned by Jim Nelson.  For many years Jim has opened his farm as an active agricultural classroom, teaching the basics of farming, homesteading, and animal care. Katie had already been given a strong agriculture foundation.

Katie says; “I believe my purpose in life is to help reawaken and spark people’s connection, respect, love and stewardship to the land.  To help teach them to enliven their senses and appreciation for the wonderful earth and all her blessings in its many forms.”

Bounty of the County – Aug. 21st

bounty of the county posterJoin Nevada County Grown for their annual Bounty of the County fundraiser, where they unite local farmers and ranchers with their favorite restaurants, local breweries and vintners to provide you with a fun, exciting tasting event that explores the best of our food scene Aug. 21st from 5:30-8PM.
This year they are highlighting “Putting Local on the Menu” a community effort to offer more local meat and produce in restaurants all around the county, strengthening our local food supply, building our local economy, and defining our local food culture.
They have also expanded the event to be a family friendly affair offering a Youth Culinary Experience sponsored by Sierra Harvest.

Proceeds will benefit Nevada County Grown and their mission to promote and celebrate our local food culture.  Purchase tickets online here.

Smash, Chop, Mix and Devour!

tasting at deer creek school 2018Do you love to cook with fresh, local produce and want to share your enthusiasm for healthy eating with Nevada County students? We are seeking volunteer chefs to teach hands-on cooking lessons utilizing seasonal produce from local farmers.   Volunteer chefs will craft simple recipes with students at 24 elementary schools and 4 high schools in Nevada County Sept. 30 – Nov. 1. A stipend is offered to cover costs. You don’t need to be a professional chef to enjoy this fun volunteer opportunity. Training is offered for new and experienced chefs.  “I had a blast today and was blown away by the kids’ enthusiasm for and enjoyment of the food! At least two girls said that it was the most delicious salad they ever tasted which melted my heart!” stated a 2018 volunteer chef. Email Miriam Limov to sign up today! Full volunteer description here.  Peruse last year’s tasty recipe’s for ideas: 2018 Tasting Days Recipe Book.

2018 chicago park school tasting day with bill jensen

Hospitality House, Sierra Harvest team up to nourish, educate homeless residents

hospitality house partnership 2019Hospitality House and Sierra Harvest have partnered to grow their programs together with a goal to increase self-sufficiency and skills for low-income and homeless individuals through nutrition-related endeavors, a news release states.

Sierra Harvest’s mission is to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal food, and now it will be directly helping homeless individuals at Utah’s Place, the shelter operated by Hospitality House.

As part of the partnership, the release states, Sierra Harvest will help Hospitality House expand its current garden to four seasons to ensure year-round sustainability and availability of fresh, organic produce to guests. They will provide quarterly site visits/workshops for planting with guests in conjunction with each new garden season, lead specialized training courses for Hospitality House’s culinary students, and build gardens at newly housed guests’ homes to reduce their costs of living through the Sierra Gardens program.

Sierra Harvest connected a master gardener, Toni Smith, to give weekly support for the shelter garden as well.

“Thrilled to be working in tandem with Hospitality House to solve some of our most pressing community issues regarding homelessness and hunger,” Aimee Retzler, co-director of Sierra Harvest said in the release. “We are joining forces to leverage Sierra Harvest’s passion to enable fresh food access for everyone and Hospitality House’s ability to provide a space and compassion for our homeless community.

“Working together we give Hospitality House clients opportunities to gain knowledge, skills, self-worth and access to fresh, local, organic food. Our combined efforts will deliver hope, healing and health to those most in need.”

According to the release, Hospitality House works to bring homeless people in Nevada County into a circle of community caring that offers shelter, sustenance, medical care, advocacy, opportunity, dignity, and hope as they assist them in transitioning from homelessness to housing. To aid this transition, Hospitality House encourages its guests to embrace educational opportunities, volunteerism and job-training programs. The shelter currently offers its guests a 12-week culinary job training program and a 6-week retail job training program and will now incorporate Sierra Harvest into its curriculum as an instrumental volunteer and job training program, available and encouraged to every guest at the shelter.

“Food deserts are a serious issue,” said Nancy Baglietto, executive director of Hospitality House. “When low income and homeless individuals have limited access to affordable, nutritious food, their health and livelihood suffers. Because of Sierra Harvest, guests will have an opportunity to develop a better understanding of gardening and the nutritional value associated with produce, in addition to learning best methods for farm-to-table cooking.”

Guests of Utah’s Place will volunteer at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm to learn gardening and farming techniques and give back to their community; guests will learn hands-on carpentry skills by building garden beds for low-income Nevada County residents, including garden beds for former homeless guests of Utah’s Place.

Hospitality House will enroll in the Harvest of the Month program offered through the generosity of BriarPatch Food Co-op to expand culinary students’ education by learning about new farm fresh produce and how to incorporate it into new recipes to learn and master.

Select graduates of the culinary program will even participate in Sierra Harvest’s “Tasting Days” in which a culinary student will give short cooking lessons/demos to kids interested in cooking.

The Best Part of Being an Organic Farm

It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to make someone’s day.  I just told Sandra Higareda of Higareda Family Farm that there is a gorgeous, new photo of her husband, Paco, and her father-in-law up on the wall of the BriarPatch Food Coop.  You should have heard the whoop on the other end of the line!  “We’re on the wall?! Yahooooo!  We made it!” 

I told Sandra the news in the midst of a conversation we were having about why she and Paco decided to certify their farm organic.  If you take a look at the remaining classes in the Sierra Harvest Ag Skills course, it becomes very clear that the farmers who grow our food need to master an enormous skill set.  When there are so many things to accomplish in a day and so many roles to play- from director of marketing to CFO and soil scientist to HR manager –  it is no wonder that many farmers decide not to go through with certification.  Although intimidated by the process, Sandra and Paco decided to certify organic in order to continue and grow their sales to the BriarPatch.  The BriarPatch is committed to being an all organic produce department and, while they give their local growers a lot of leeway, they also push those growers to eventually certify organic.  

Sandra and Paco were inspired by the other growers who they saw selling regularly to the BriarPatch and had taken the leap to becoming certified Organic.  As Sandra puts it, “We realized that [those other local farmers] were just regular people like us.  If they could do it, so could we.”  With the help of Sierra Harvest, Higareda Family Farm earned their Organic certification last season and haven’t looked back! 

When asked what was the best part of being organic, Sandra responded, “It makes us feel that we can offer the hard work of our farm in a way that people recognize and value.  It’s an accomplishment that says a lot about our farm.”  After learning that she was “on the wall” at BriarPatch, she changed her answer slightly, “Being on the wall – that’s the best part of being an organic farm!  I can’t wait to tell Paco, he’s not going to believe it!”

Written by Molly Nakahara
Director, Sierra Harvest Farm Institute

Foothills Fresh Wins Innovation Award from Center for Ecoliteracy

CEL Innovation Award Winner

On June 28, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden (far right), Nevada City School District interim Superintendent Monica Daugherty (second from right), and Sierra Harvest Co-director Aimee Retzler (far left) accepted an Innovation Award for their collaborative efforts in launching the Foothills Fresh School Lunch program in 2017.

The Foothills Fresh School Lunch Program is a partnership amongst the two school districts and Sierra Harvest to provide a healthy, scratch-cooked meal for K-8th grade students featuring minimal packaging and fresh ingredients. Meals are prepared in the Nevada Union High School kitchen each morning and delivered daily in hotel pans. Since the start of the program, participation in the lunch program at Nevada City School District has doubled and both districts have increased revenue to reinvest in healthy dining options. 

The award was given at the Center for Ecoliteracy’s statewide conference: Cultivating Healthy and Sustainable School Communities. School Districts and agencies from across California gathered in Oakland to learn and share practical innovative strategies for increasing access to healthier food in schools. 

While representatives from Nevada County attended the conference to bring fresh ideas home with them, they were also asked to present on successful school food strategies being implemented in Nevada County. NJUHSD Superintendent Brett McFadden was invited to take part on a panel of unique stakeholders discussing how they support Farm to School in their respective roles. McFadden advised conference participants to stay in it for the long haul.  Changing a national school lunch program isn’t done overnight and for him, nutritious meals are part of a school’s overall strategy to ensure and sustain an effective learning environment for students.

During the Good Food Showcase presented by the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), Sierra Harvest Procurement Specialist, Lauren Scott, demonstrated a Tasting Day recipe from the guest chef in schools program that Sierra Harvest has been operating since 2011. Conference participants had the opportunity to create a ‘Taco Tuesday in a Jar’ using a recipe from the 2018 Tasting Week Recipe Book.   It’s the perfect time of year for this type of recipe as we enjoy the bounty of our local farms here in Nevada County.

From zucchini lasagna to purple potato frittata – summer camp is delectable!

food love camp 2019The Food Love Farm has been bustling with activity this July!  Along with the resident bees and butterflies, our summer campers have been busying about – harvesting produce, preparing daily farm-fresh lunches, and getting their hands dirty with farm chores!  Campers arrived at the farm each morning ready to tackle a chore:  picking flower bouquets to decorate our lunch table, collecting eggs and ensuring the chickens had food and water, harvesting herbs and flowers to make sun tea, or emptying the compost bucket of lunch scraps from the previous day.  One group of enthusiastic boys even took on the role of “Team Woodchip Pile,” as they shoveled and moved woodchips into the farm to line the pathways.  At the end of Week 1, campers were almost unanimous in their choice of “Lunch Crew” as the favorite farm activity.  Each camper had an opportunity to harvest produce and prepare lunch for the whole group once during the week.   With a menu that included roasted veggie tacos, zucchini “lasagna,” purple potato and kale frittata, fresh spring rolls, and tamales, we were all able to share in the delicious bounty of the farm and practice invaluable cooking skills!  We certainly had some adventurous eaters at camp this summer!  Of course, we also saved time to read books and write in our field guides under the shade of the hops tipi, make art and crafts with natural materials, and host our annual Summer Camp Farmers Market!  Food Love Farm Summer Camp truly is the tastiest camp in town! 

If you want to experience the magic of the Food Love Farm, stop by our U-Pick on Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6:30, through October! 

food love camp - art shirts 2019
food love camp 2019


Meet Mountain People’s Wine Distributing Inc.

Mountain People's winery logoThere are several stellar local businesses who choose to support Sierra Harvest in a number of ways ranging from sharing in kind products and services to annual donations. Periodically, we highlight these amazing sponsors and the work they do.  We caught up with Laurie and Michael Michel from Mountain People’s Wine Distributing Inc.  to talk about who they are and why they support the work of Sierra Harvest.

Mountain People’s Wine Distributing Inc. is a member of Harvesting our Future Society, which means they have committed to donating to Sierra Harvest for 5 consecutive years based on their pledge. Michael Michel, Owner and Laura Fung, President have chosen to support Sierra Harvest because it is local to Nevada County and shares in their mission of supporting small family farms and organic agriculture. They also believe that bringing education and high-quality organic farm products to our schools is a great investment in the future. 

Mountain Peoples Wine Distributing Inc. has been in business for 25 years this year.  Distributing over 300 Organic and Biodynamic wines both domestic and from around the world, you can purchase their wines locally from Natural Selection, Briar Patch Food Co-op, California Organics, SPD, Watershed, Three Forks, The Onyx and many more restaurants and stores throughout California.  Their main local wine is Chacewater and many of the reds are grown organically off Bitney Springs Road.

In addition to their business support, Laurie Michel has been involved with the gleaning program for 9 years now!  Michel said, “It has morphed and evolved since I first started way back then.  Now with Sierra Harvest managing the program, they have made great improvements in the technology, volunteerism, donation of crops and overall exposure to the public.  I signed up as a harvest leader last year because I wanted to be more involved in harvesting unused crops of fruit and vegetables and therefore reducing food waste.  I also enjoy the fact that we are providing healthy fresh food options to the clients of Interfaith Food Ministry by delivering the harvest to them for distribution to their clients.  It is a win for everyone!  The homeowner or farmer gets their produce picked, we get to be out in the sun doing something fun, and the food doesn’t go to waste!”

When asked about why they choose to continually support Sierra Harvest, Michel said, “In addition to sharing our company’s mission, we support Sierra Harvest because we believe in supporting our community.  Sierra Harvest works hard to bring our community together around the idea of nourishing our bodies and our earth with healthy, locally grown organic foods.”