Patti Bess: Garden helpers |

Patti Bess: Garden helpers

Patrick Rodysill at work on a garden in Grass Valley.
John Hart/ | The Union

Pesto, presto

Debora and Leo Chapman have farmed and raised animals on their current land in Nevada City for more than five years. Leo was one of the founding members of Living Lands Agrarian Network. To them summer without pesto is like winter without rain.

Pesto can be made in minutes in the blender with a variety of herbs — not just basil. Cilantro pesto with pistachios and a splash of lime juice is delicious as a dipping sauce for artichokes. Arugula by itself is so flavorful it needs nothing but a little salt. Chickweed which is growing in your yard right now is also easy to use though you may want to remove some of its stems.

A pesto made of chives, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, walnuts and garlic is delicious over chicken breasts.

Pesto from the Chapmans

Add two firmly packed cups of any one of these garden plants or a combination of all:

Basil, Arugula, Cilantro, Chickweed


2 to 4 cloves of garlic

1/2 to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3/4 to 1 teaspoon Salt (to taste)

1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts or almonds

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Do not over blend as the pesto will turn brown. Sometimes a tablespoon of water is helpful to get it all moving.

Enjoy on or in anything — your morning toast, pasta, a topping for scrambled eggs or sautéed zucchini.

Have you ever dreamed of planting your own vegetables? Wouldn’t you enjoy the scent of basil growing near the kitchen, next to the tomatoes and enough squash for your family and the neighbors, too?

Have you planted a garden only to watch your “little darlings” stay the same size week after week? Well, you’re not alone, but don’t give up yet.

There is help. Gardening in Nevada County is doable, just a little more complicated than places where the soil is deep and rich.

Sierra Gardens is one of several programs under the auspices of Sierra Harvest, a local nonprofit that provides fresh food education and access.

Sierra Gardens’ mission is to actually help families, maybe yours, to plan, install and maintain a successful garden.

They even help set up a composting system and teach people how to cook the food.

The program primarily targets families of children who are on the free or reduced price lunch program but also work with people of all ages and walks of life.

As coordinator of Sierra Gardens, Leo Chapman and his staff installed 18 gardens last year. Of these, 13 received scholarships.

In the first year of the program, families grew more than 2,000 pounds of produce in their first growing season.

Leo and his staff will come out to your home to assess the land and resources, and negotiate with a landlord if necessary. They will help plan the layout of a garden, provide fencing, a watering system, seedlings and mentorship, along with cooking and gardening classes for a two-year period.

Chapman plans to install 25 gardens in 2015, half of which are already scheduled. This is a two-year program. Those families in their second year act as ambassadors to the next year’s crop of gardeners.

“Awareness across the country is shifting. People don’t want food from gardens that are building up the toxicity of our planet. It is more mainstream knowledge that organic farming is not only good for the bugs and animals but people, too,” Chapman commented.

Gardens heal. They provide access to organic produce to families that can’t always afford it. They bring families together working outdoors. They encourage healthy eating, provide exercise, and all the effort comes back threefold.

“Gardens are even more important in today’s world. They help to ground our statically charged children who are constantly plugged into some kind of electronic devices and not spending time outdoors,” Leo said.

To contact the Sierra Gardens project or get more information, go to or call Leo Chapman at 575-5667

Another person in our community who is a great resource is Patrick Rodysill. For the past nine years, Patrick, with his trusty sidekick Tess, focused his landscaping business on coaching budding vegetable gardeners and helping his clients create beautiful, edible landscapes.

Whether you want to do some of the work yourself or sit in the shade and just watch, Patrick will help with all aspects of the garden from fencing and building healthy soil to planting, harvesting and water conservation.

Rodysill began his career 20 years ago apprenticing with a landscape architect in Nebraska who also did flower design projects for banks, hotels, and other large clients. Five years ago, Patrick and a partner installed the first edible landscape design ever done at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

“One of the things I learned from my first job is that the aesthetics of a vegetable garden are as important to me as the food production,” he said.

Patrick can be reached on Facebook or by calling 530-913-2962.

Patti Bess is a cookbook author and freelance writer from Grass Valley. She can be reached for comments or suggestions at

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