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Sierra Harvest announces Farm to School awards in Nevada County

Amanda Thibodeau
Special to The Union
Grass Valley Charter School children taste test blood and Cara-Cara oranges as part of Sierra Harvest's Harvest of the Month program, bringing food from farm to school with 96 percent participation among western Nevada County students.
Submitted photo |

As we all know, at the end of school there are awards ceremonies honoring our students and their achievements throughout the school year.

In honor of awards season (and all the awesome programming that happened this past year), Sierra Harvest presents the 2016-17 Farm to School awards!

Harvest of the Month

One of the most popular parts of farm to school, this program offers tastings of local, seasonal, organic produce in 300 K-8 classrooms and three high school cafeterias each month. In this fifth year of school tastings, students munched their way through over 8,000 pounds of produce including: plums, lunchbox peppers, purple, orange, and white cauliflower, romanesco, pomegranates, collard greens, blood and Cara-Cara oranges, kiwis, kumquats, snap peas and salad turnips.

Winner for surprise favorite: Kumquats

Before trying them, only about 10 percent of students said they liked the kumquat- and most had never even seen one. After tasting, over 70 percent of students wanted more! For this reason (and for all the pictures we received of sour faces), the kumquat is the Harvest of the Month darkhorse winner.

Winner for most ridiculous produce pick up: Kiwis

Liaisons picked up and distributed 1,600 pounds of kiwis in the middle of an atmospheric river. So many kiwis, so much rain.

Honorable mention: Farmer Javier from JSM Organics

Farmer Javier not only provided high quality produce, he also had it cut and packaged for 7,000 students (that’s a big job). And, as if he weren’t busy enough, he even came for a visit to Nevada Union High School to talk about what it’s like to be an organic farmer.

Tasting Week

Next to Harvest of the Month, Tasting Week is right up there as some of the most popular events we coordinate. And for good reason. Kids get to prepare food and eat it! This past year, 22 chefs made delicious, hands on dishes including favorites like wild greens pesto, rainbow veggie slaw, potato latkes and fresh spring rolls.

Chef of the year: Mason Partak

At the age of 13, Mason is already a force to be reckoned with. The winner of “Chopped Junior,” this chef brought his skills and enthusiasm to Cottage Hill Elementary, sharing his “Any Way You Want It, That’s the Way You Eat It Salad.”

Farm partners

This is a really hard category to choose a favorite! We are so fortunate to work with 16 amazing local farmers who have taken the time to come into classrooms, host field trips and provide produce for garden carts at 20 schools. Really, they are all winners.

Winner for this year’s Farmer Partner of the year: Starbright Acres Family Farm

Starbright is a star of farm to school (pardon the pun) and has been since our program began. Aleta and Ken Barrett provide produce to three schools and have hosted countless field trips and in school farmer visits where students taste fresh food and even get to snuggle baby goats. Additionally, Aleta is a farm to school liaison for Lyman Gilmore Middle School and she leads all the Harvest of the Month tastings for them.

Plant sales

Just a few weeks ago, 22 schools had plant sale fundraisers to support farm to school for their school community. This year, schools received 23 varieties of flowers, herbs, fruits and veggies to sell — and more of everything. Schools received 100 percent more plants this year than ever before.

Putting together 44 mixed flats of 23 varieties (that all mature at different times) is a logistical feat that takes quite a bit of patience and expertise.

Plant Sale Logistics Master: Maggie McProud

Since taking over leadership at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm, Maggie has brought over 10 years farming experience to the table — and local schools and families are benefitting! In addition to growing high quality starts for sales, Maggie has provided produce, field trips and in school farmer visits for five schools as part of the farm to school program.

School food

Ingredient of the Year: Lunchbox Peppers

Featured in high school and elementary school lunches — in pasta and on salad bars, these fresh, little peppers were widely enjoyed across the county from K-12 grades!

Honorable mention lunch treat: Cara-Cara and Blood Oranges

As part of the California Thursdays Collective Action Day, local citrus from Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits was tasted in 24 schools and featured in school lunches county-wide!

As always, it’s difficult to narrow awards down to just one winner. But since Farm to School serves 96 percent of the students in western Nevada County, doesn’t that make us all winners?

Amanda Thibodeau is director of the Farm to School program at Sierra Harvest. Do you have a child who is excited about farming and food? The Food Love Farm Summer Camp is the tastiest camp around with two sessions July 10-14 and July 17-21. Daily sessions run from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., with each day having its own unique theme around food and farming.

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