The Carrot was the Star at the 2019 Jr Iron Chef Competition!

jr iron chef competition at NJUHSD 2019

As Nevada Union High School students readied themselves for spring break, nearly 150 Culinary Arts students competed in the 3rd Annual Jr Iron Chef Competition sponsored by Sierra Harvest and BriarPatch Food Co-op.

The week long competition began with a reveal of the secret ingredient: organic, local carrots from Mountain Bounty Farm. In less than an hour, student teams crafted a recipe highlighting the secret ingredient. Culinary Instructor Kelli Morris shopped for all team’s ingredients at Briar Patch with a generous gift card donated by the Food Coop. Students then had a class period to prep ingredients. When the guest judges arrived on Wednesday and Thursday, students had an hour long class period to execute and present their dishes.

Recipes were scored based on flavor, presentation, creativity, and practicality. Guest judges chose a winning dish from each of the 5 culinary classes and to compete against one another for the toughest critics: their peers. Students judged the top five dishes in the Nevada Union cafeteria during lunch last week. In a close race, Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato soup won with 35% of the vote. Cheesy Carrot Casserole came in 2nd with 23% of the vote, followed by Carrot Ginger Soup and Moroccan Carrot Tagine.

The following is a first-hand account of the competition from guest judge Roberta DesBouillons, retired chef and former owner of Apron Strings, a cooking school for youth in San Francisco.  

Once things got rolling I was aware of how industrious and ambitious these high school students were.  No one took the path of least resistance. I witnessed team work, critical thinking, time management, math, science…all the things that take place in a commercial industrial kitchen.

Fellow judges Megan Hart from Polly’s Paladar, Shana Maziarz from Three Forks, Wendy Van Wagner involved in Nevada County Nutritional Program, Shanin Ybarrondo from Nevada County Grown, Aimee Retzler, Malaika Bishop, and Lauren Scott from Sierra Harvest were roaming throughout the kitchen as the students pulled together ingredients, preheated ovens and collected tools as the clock started to tick. As dishes began to come together, the aromas started taking center stage. Cinnamon, cumin and curry were just a few of the global scents. Blenders were whirling while pureeing variations of carrot soup, food processors were busy grating for potato, carrot latkes, stand mixers were whipping up cream cheese frosting for carrot cake, muffins and blondies.

Jr iron chef - roberta and shannin
  Roberta and Shanin judging the entries

One by one the teams started bringing their completed projects up to the judging area.  The sense of pride and accomplishment was evident as the dishes were placed on the table to be judged. Each judge armed with fork and spoon took their job seriously. Initially the first taste was taken with discrimination as the students stood to the side looking for an indication as to how their offering did. Most dishes were nothing short of impressive, meeting the criteria set before-hand. Often the plating and garnishing was creative with great eye appeal. As the judges compared notes the dishes were rated and scores added up. In the end, they were all winners. As these high school students get closer to the day they leave the place they now call home and move into the world to create their own lives, they will have to feed themselves. Jr Iron Chef brings them a step closer to being able to take something as simple as a carrot and create a beautiful, healthy dish. It teaches them to eat fresh, locally sourced food and that spending time in the kitchen can be a rewarding experience.

If you’d like to taste the semi-finalist recipes for yourself – here they are!

1st Place: Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup


  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 lb carrots
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2-4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Peel and chop veggies, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast on a lined baking sheet on the center rack of oven for 30-40 minutes.
  4. Bring a medium pot to medium-low heat and melt butter.
  5. Add flour, slowly whisking to form a roux. Stir constantly, while the roux thickens, then slowly add in veggie broth.
  6. Add roasted veggies and season with salt.
  7. Blend soup using an immersion blender, or in batches using a regular blender.
  8. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

2nd Place: Cheesy Carrot Casserole


  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ medium onion
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 12 large carrots cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs or Ritz crackers


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 casserole dish.
  2. Steam carrots until ½ way cooked, soft enough to bit but still with a little crunch.
  3. As carrots steam, combine butter and onion in a saucepan. Cook until onions are soft and translucent.
  4. Add flour, salt, mustard and pepper. Mix well to create a paste.
  5. Slowly add 1/3 cup of milk at a time while whisking continually until all the milk has been added to pan.
  6. Cook for 5 minutes, turn off heat, and add cheese. Mix well until cheese is melted.
  7. Place steamed carrots in casserole dish, pour cheese mix on top of carrots.
  8. Sprinkle bread crumbs or Ritz crackers on top and bake 25 minutes.
  9. Garnish with chives and almonds.

3rd Place: Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup


  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 pound carrots
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • ¼ cup Sour cream


  1. Melt butter in pot, add onions and cook, stirring often, about 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are soft. About 30 minutes.
  3. Add sour cream, using an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender). Carefully blend until smooth. Bring soup back to a boil. Adjust with salt and pepper.

4th Place: Moroccan Carrot Tagine


  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 Tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 5 large carrots
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 teaspoons honey
  • 2 cups chickpeas


  1. Sauté garlic, onion, and parsley on medium heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Add salt, cinnamon, pepper. Add carrots with water.
  3. Bring to simmer on low heat till tender.
  4. Stir in honey and cooked chickpeas.

Honorable Mention: Carrot Tart with Ricotta and Herbs


  • 2 cup ricotta
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 large carrots
  • Package of puff pastry
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoon dill
  • Dried cranberries


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Whisk ricotta and cream in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion until soft. Add carrots and cook 2 minutes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Put ricotta mixture in mini filo shells.
  5. Scatter onion and carrot on shells and bake until tender.
  6. Just before serving, toss herbs and remaining oil in a bowl with salt and pepper and place on tarts. Sprinkle on dried cranberries.



Be a Hero – Apply to be a Volunteer Harvest Leader for the 2019 Gold Country Gleaning Season!

Bill Jensen, Miriam Limov and Heidi Zimmerman on a 2018 gleanPick 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 – apply now to be a volunteer Harvest Leader for the 2019 Sierra Harvest Gold Country Gleaning season! We are seeking 5-6 passionate and enthusiastic volunteers who can commit to leading a crew of volunteers up to twice a month July – Oct. to 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 their 8,000 clients with 25% of them children.  Volunteers picked and donated more than 10,000 pounds in the 2018 season to IFM – be a part of this awesome team that will try and double that amount in 2019! 

Applications due May 17 with interviews in late May. Apply today through the on-line form located here.  All training included! Questions  – Miriam Limov at

Creating a Stronger Local Food Economy One Conversation at a Time!

putting local on the menu event april 2019 - miners foundryOn April 4th just before the start of Sierra Harvest’s annual Soup Night, more than 45 local food buyers and producers participated in a networking event with the intention to create more farm-direct relationships in Nevada County. Participants engaged in meaningful conversations around seasonal availability, pre-planning, communication, commitments, and pricing. Producers swapped their planned availability for the seasons with buyers who brought their menu plans and everyone left with a contact list of buyers and producers in attendance.

There were producers from more than 20 farms and ranches who offer a range of products including vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, eggs, poultry, pork, beef, flowers, and herbs. Well established farms like Mountain Bounty, Riverhill, Back2Basics and Starbright Acres as well as new farmers on the scene like Son of Something Farm, Lush Leaf Micro Greens, and New Leaf Grown all turned up to meet potential new buyers. 

In addition to a great producer turn out, there were food buyers from over a dozen local restaurants, grocery stores and institutions in attendance. Restaurant owners from Wild Eye Pub and Meze Eatery brought their menu plans and produce needs for the season, handing them out to farmers and discussed  varietal details. Chefs from South Pine Café, Diego’s, Stone House, Thirsty Barrel, The Ham Stand, and Gourmet Kitty Productions were among the buyer’s crowd. The produce buyers from BriarPatch Food Co-op and SPD Market were also in attendance.  

Sandra Higareda of Higareda Family Farms emailed the next day stating, “I want you to know that I appreciate the connections made at the networking event and thanks to Aimee Retzler for introducing me to John Painter of SPD Market. Today I delivered a case of parsley for them to look at my quality, so I appreciate the work Sierra Harvest is doing to connect farmers with local business. It was a success immediately”.

What started as a conversation in December of 2018 on how to engage more Nevada County restaurants and food buyers in purchasing locally, has turned into a series of gatherings attended by over a hundred local folks invested in creating a stronger local food economy. Contact Lauren Scott, Sierra Harvest Procurement Specialist, for more information on the ‘Putting Local on the Menu’ series. (530) 265-2343.


Hats Off to the 2019 Farm Biz Graduates

farm biz class 2019

Farm Biz class of 2019:  Hayley Wingerd, Patrick Kersten, Lynn Archer, Kim Overaa, Mike Ingram, Adam Pearcy and Jason Rainey.

New farms are springing up in our community!  From oyster mushrooms to hops, new farmers are finding niche crops that local markets are craving.  The members of the Farm Biz class of 2019 highlight the great land-based entrepreneurs working hard to create a vibrant food system in Nevada County.   Learn more about a few of these new farm businesses and the wonderful products they are supplying our community. 

You’ve never seen Oyster mushrooms like the ones Lynn Archer grows at Sierra Gourmet Mushrooms.  They look like they’re made of velvet and a single cluster is the size of a dinner plate!  If you were at Soup Night, you may have stopped by her table to ogle her amazing display of mushrooms and asked, like many did, “are these real?!”  Oh yes, they are real, and they are available at many local grocery stores and restaurants. 

Would you like to have a box of locally grown, fresh veggies delivered to a location of your choice every week?  Look no further than, King of the Woods Farm located just minutes from downtown Grass Valley.  Farm Biz grad Hayley Wingerd and partner Evan, co-owners of King of the Woods, grow vegetables and mushrooms on their innovative, micro-farm.

Don’t just eat local, drink local!  Mike Ingram of Yuba River Organics in Penn Valley is growing hops on a big scale.  He plans to plant a few acres of the varieties most sought after by local brewers.   

Adam Pearcy is growing high elevation vegetables at FourK Farm!  Located up Highway 20 at an elevation of 4000 feet, Fourk Farm offers a CSA with multiple pick-up locations throughout town. 

Hats off to our Farm Biz graduates!  We wish you success!

farm biz class 2019

CalFresh Benefits Now Available to SSI Recipients!

Excellent news for people receiving State Supplemental Income (SSI) – as of June 1st, 2019 persons receiving SSI will now be eligible to receive CalFresh benefits! Most SSI recipients and couples living on their own, will be newly eligible for CalFresh. If approved, they will receive an EBT card with CalFresh food benefits loaded monthly. Average food benefits for a household of one is estimated to be $130 per month.  More info here.

How does this affect specific customers?

  • SSI income amounts will not be reduced or eliminated.
  • Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) income amounts will increase by $10 per person to align the rates with SSI rates.
  • Single persons receiving SSI will be able to apply for benefits starting 6/1/2019.
  • SSI persons who are included in active CalFresh households will automatically be added to the case when their next report or renewal is due.  They do not need to apply.

What if adding the SSI person to the household would reduce or lose CalFresh benefits because of the added SSI income?

    1. If adding the SSI person to the active CalFresh case would result in reduced benefits, these households will be grandfathered in and will not have their benefits reduced as long as they remain on aid.
    2. If adding the SSI person to the active CalFresh case would result in benefits being discontinued, these households will be grandfathered in and will continue to receive benefits as long as they remain on aid.
    3. Once the CalFresh household case discontinues for any reason, these rules would no longer apply and the household would be evaluated according to normal income processing guidelines.

Thanks to Nevada County Social Services for improving access to fresh food for Nevada County residents.  Call the Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Social Services with your questions at: 530-265-1627



Farmers Bring Spring into Local Classrooms and Beyond

Rebecca getting a visit from the farmer visit at cascade senior centerSpring is here, which means in addition to getting seeds started and soil prepped, local farmers are also taking time to go into school classrooms as part of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program. 

Now in its 10th year, this popular program has expanded to include serving residents at the Cascade Senior Center with the Harvest of the Month program, and now farmer visits too!

Farmer Emily Koller of Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm is doing spring farmer visits at Union Hill School, Deer Creek Elementary, Seven Hills Middle School and Cascades Senior Living of Grass Valley. 

In the school setting, each lesson is geared toward the next generation science standards (NGSS) for that grade level and is the middle piece of a 3-part series (fall field trip, winter farmer visit, spring field trip) on the topic specific to that grade level. 

For example, the 2nd grade classes are focusing on how and why seeds travel, so for their farmer visit, they are making seed bombs/balls filled with wildflower and native plant seeds.  At Seven Hills, students are learning about the history of seeds and genetically modified organisms in 7th grade science.  

When asked about why she likes going into the classroom, Koller said, “I love visiting classrooms in the winter because it provides continuity for the students between farm visits in the fall and spring.  We get to continue the thread of learning that we began at their first farm visit in the fall and get them excited about things coming alive in the spring!”  

And after this wet and wild winter, we are all excited for the coming spring.  For residents of Cascade Senior Living, Farmer Emily’s visit was especially welcomed.  Koller brought fluffy baby chicks that were just one week old, which was a ray of springtime sunshine for everyone involved.

While going into schools, Koller is also busily preparing the Food Love Farm for spring field trips and volunteer days.  She and her crew will have a series of certified organic plant sales on the farm this spring: M.  To learn more about the Food Love Farm and the spring plant sale visit:


Food Love Farm Renewed Their Organic Certification!

2019 - Emily Koller at Food Love Farm - CCOFIt’s official! The Food Love Farm just renewed their CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) organic certification!  This means that all plant starts and produce grown at the Food Love Farm are done so without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers or GMO seeds. This has always been our practice from day one and farm production has grown to the point where we needed to renew our organic certification. Organic standards ensure that the farming practices used produce not just safe and healthy food for you, but also protect and nurture the land we farm and the natural resources around us. Detailed record keeping and an annual re-certification and inspection will guarantee that the farming practices at the Food Love Farm continue to follow organic standards. Come visit the Food Love Farm to see organic in action!  Our weekly U-Pick will start again in June and we are happy to share how we do what we do! 

To learn more about CCOF and organic farming practices, visit:


From Apples to Zebra Tomatoes: Harvest of the Month Celebrates 10 years

tasting cauliflower at deer creek school HOM 2016This year, Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program is celebrating 10 years of tastings, and over 50,000 pounds of local produce!  From jicama to kumquats, purple cauliflower to kiwis- thousands of Nevada County students and adults alike have munched their way through 50 different local and seasonal favorites over the years.  After trying so many new foods, local students averaged a 43% increase in liking the items sampled through the Harvest of the Month program.

Sierra Harvest has found that even picky eaters will often try vegetables at school if they see other kids trying them.  A parent recently reported, “I want you to know I have been trying to get my son to eat celery for years… He said someone at school gave him celery at the Harvest of the Month tasting… For the first time last night he asked me for celery with peanut butter on it! Because he tried it at school. So this project you have going is making the kids want to try vegetables.  It probably is a life changer for kids in their future because they want to start trying other things while they’re so young! “

One of the major supporters of Farm to School is the BriarPatch Food Co-op.  Located in Grass Valley, BriarPatch is a cooperatively-owned grocery store that has been a pillar of this community for over 40 years now.  And during the 2018-19 school year, BriarPatch has sponsored all the produce for the Harvest of the Month program!

Currently providing monthly tastings to 33 schools and other institutions such as Dignity Health, and Cascade Senior Living- the Harvest of the Month is not just for kids anymore.  If you shop at  BriarPatch you can now learn more about the program there, too.  Just look up in the produce section, where this month’s item is proudly featured.  February’s seasonal pick: crunchy carrots from Full Belly Farm.

Here’s what students are saying about the Harvest of the Month:

“We decided that persimmons are better than fruit snacks.”

“It makes the room smell good. Can I have seconds? It tastes like mind-blowing achievement!”

“The best thing in the world! So scrumptious.”

“They’re crunchy & a little juicy on the inside! They taste different! They taste so good & I love them! Carrots are my favorite food! We should make carrot juice sometime.”

“Does my breath smell like broccoli?”

It has been said that it takes trying a new item over 10 times to know if you like it or not!  Plus your taste buds change every 10 days as well.  This past year, 72% of students tried something new through Harvest of the Month.  Thanks to the Harvest of the Month program, community members of all ages are getting a chance to taste the best local produce available.  It might not be for the 10th time, but every bite counts. 

HOM tasting



Like a Good Neighbor – Peaceful Valley is Always There

Edy and Emily - Peaceful Valley seed donations 2019If you are a gardener or organic farmer in Nevada County, chances are you’ve spent some time in Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply!  A source for all things related to organic farming and gardening, this local business has been a core supporter of Sierra Harvest for 4 years now.

Indeed, over the years Peaceful Valley has donated more than $31,000 in kind to the organization as well as provided thousands of dollars in farm conference sponsorships and gifts.

In addition to this support, the talented folks at Peaceful Valley have also produced a number of videos showcasing the work of Sierra Harvest in the community.  Owner Pattie Boudier said, “One of the first videos we made was for the Harvest of the Month program showcasing Persimmons from Pearson Family Orchards.  It was so fun!  I also loved going out to Deer Creek Elementary- watching Yolanda Williges do the pepper tasting was really inspiring.  We have also done videos about the high school salad bars, and tasting week too.” Watch the Tasting Week video.

Sierra Harvest recently received a donation of 2,100 organic seed packets that will be used to teach people how to grow their own food locally through the Sierra Gardens program, in school gardens, and at the Food Love educational farm.  Peaceful Valley enables children and families of all income levels to get access to organic foods that they themselves have cultivated and harvested.

If you haven’t been to then you might want to head over, as Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply not only provides great products but also has over 300 how-to videos that have been viewed over 12 million times!

Peaceful Valley is an amazing resource for growers around the country and Sierra Harvest is incredibly grateful for their ongoing support of our mission and vision. 

Thanks to Volunteers, Sponsors, Presenters and Attendees – Conference a Success!

Doniga Markegard speaking at Nevada Union High School

“I always leave feeling optimistic about the future — a high I look forward to every year!”
– Conference Participant

Despite rain, snow, and sleet, the 9th annual Sustainable Food and Farm Conference was a success. Thursday and Friday Field Days offered an assortment of workshop opportunities, as well as a Farm Tour to Apollo Olive Oil, Heart and Soul Alpacas, Grant Marie Winery, and Richard’s Grassfed Beef. Doniga Markegard kicked off the keynote speaker series on Saturday with an inspiring look at her family-run farm and the future of regenerative ranching. Paul Muller and Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farm shared the secrets of their success, and Jeff Lowenfels kept the audience laughing with his unique brand of soil science humor.

The Main Hall was packed for the Farm Expo – which included conference sponsors, Vital Garden Supply, Forever Flowering Greenhouses, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and many others – and conversation was lively between our vendors and participants. Conference Sponsors, BriarPatch Food Co-op, provided an assortment of snacks and beverages, and Summer Thymes Bakery & Deli served hundreds of locally-sourced lunches. Participants who braved the cold Sunday built their own curriculum from a selection of twenty workshops taught by local and regional experts.

It takes a village to put on an event, and it could not be done without our outstanding volunteers. From mailing flyers, to stuffing bags, to waking up at the crack of dawn to help register folks on Saturday, our volunteers are involved in every aspect of the conference. The Sustainable Food and Farm Conference is truly an event created for the community, by the community.