Special to The Union
A busload of 60 chatty third-grade students from Scotten Elementary School arrived at Starbright Acres Farm Monday morning to meet goats and chickens, harvest tomatoes and squash and pull drying summer vines for the compost pile.
“I hope they learn the fundamentals of farming,” said teacher Rose Capaccioli, who will relate what the students learn on the farm field trip with third-grade science curriculum, then follow through with a writing project about the day back in the classroom.
“I learned there’s an angry chicken here named ‘Bob,’” blurted out one fidgety third-grade student named Kayley Rattray.
Local farm-to-school connections like these have grown in recent years most notably through an organization formerly known as Live Healthy Nevada County.
Last month, Live Healthy announced it had merged with Living Lands Agrarian Network, a community supported nonprofit group born seven years ago to train young people how to farm.
Together, the two formed Sierra Harvest in a move organizers see as a common-sense approach that will strengthen the local food movement.
The idea of combining two organizations with similar missions was first explored about a year ago when it became clear that they could get more done and be more effective if they joined forces.
“It just made sense to do it together,” said Malaika Bishop who co-directs Sierra Harvest with Aimee Retzler. Sierra Harvest now rents an office from BriarPatch Co-op in the former In the Kitchen space located at 648 Zion St.
Last week, the community came out to support the new partnership, standing in lines that snaked out the door at Nevada City’s Veteran’s Hall during Sierra Harvest’s first joint soup night fundraiser. Up to 175 people turned out for the event.
Nothing will be lost in the merger. Instead, organizers speak of only gains. Live Healthy’s administrative and grant funding strengths will complement Living Lands’ community popularity and on-the-ground grassroots effectiveness enlisting supporters through soup nights, potlucks, on-site farm dinners, an education farm, intern program and farm tours.
An ambitious list of programming will continue for 3,900 students at 12 area schools: produce stands, “Harvest of the Month” tastings of local produce, farm field trips and school visits from farmers, nutrition educators and chefs.
The Food Love Project, an educational farm, formerly of Living Lands Agrarian Network, will continue to host school field trips and popular Tuesday U-Pick harvest days.
A farmer training program established by Living Lands will continue to mentor the next generation of intern and journeyman farmers. Upward of 50 percent of the 25 farm interns who have gone through the program continue to farm, said co-founder and farmer Leo Chapman.
Living Lands connected landowners with young farmers who wanted to grow food but couldn’t afford land of their own.
“It seemed brilliant,” Chapman said, who volunteered much of his time throughout the program’s existence.
In recent years, Living Lands became stretched thin, Chapman said. After losing a director and co-founders moved from the organization to start their own farms, the predominantly volunteer-run organization lost its capacity to juggle administrative roles and the demands of hard work that farming requires.
Chapman is re-energized by the new merger.
“I think what will change is there is now a stronger organization behind us funding what we’ve always really wanted to do … This new organization has allowed me to dream my big dreams again,” Chapman said.
A legacy lives on at a handful of offshoot farms, begun by farmers with ties to Living Lands where local food continues to grow, such as First Rain Farm, Buckeye Ranch and Soil Sisters Farm. Many board members of Living Lands have already settled into Sierra Harvest’s board, advisory committees and staff.
In 2014, Sierra Harvest hopes to establish “The New Generation Educational Farm” — an outdoor classroom to teach science, math, literacy and social skills through gardening and culinary activities.
Chapman is excited to be part of a new program meant to increase food security for low-income families. He will head up the new Backyard Garden Program with a goal of establishing 20 to 25 backyard food gardens for families who want to learn how to grow their own food but don’t know how.
“He’s already stepping up before we have the funding to pay him,” said Malaika Bishop, who wrote three grant proposals last week to fund the Backyard Garden Program.
It’s challenging to keep up with the organization. In September, Sierra Harvest became one of 10 host organizations in California to enlist a Food Corps Member, part of a National Service Program designed to reduce childhood obesity by reshaping school meals through the procurement of locally grown foods from school gardens and farms.
October is a busy month for Sierra Harvest with school produce stands known as garden carts parked in front of a different area school five days a week, multiple school field trips to local farms scheduled every week, a Harvest Potluck at the Food Love Project Oct. 15 and guest chefs giving classroom cooking demonstrations at 12 schools during Tasting Week, Oct. 21-25. Sierra Harvest is also supporting the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm conference scheduled for Jan. 19-20.
“It’s really exciting to be part of an organization that I feel I can throw my heart and soul into and be able to make a difference in a community for people who don’t always have access to good, healthy food,” Bishop said.
To learn more, visit http://sierraharvest.org or call 530-265-2343.
Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-913-3067.
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