Pineapple, peanut butter or tomatoes? — Local ground cherries kick off Harvest of the Month | TheUnion.com

Pineapple, peanut butter or tomatoes? — Local ground cherries kick off Harvest of the Month

Amanda Thibodeau
Special to The Union

The leaves are starting to turn, there's a crispness to the air … the school year is well underway and farm to school is in full swing.

Now serving 32 schools all over western Nevada County, Sierra Harvest's farm to school program is entering its 10th school year!

One of the most popular parts of farm to school is the Harvest of the Month program (and with good reason). For many years now, students have been trying a diverse array of local, organic and seasonal produce each month in their classroom — and this year is no different.

In fact, the 2018 school year has kicked off with one of the weirdest tastes yet, the ground cherry. Unfamiliar with ground cherries? You're not alone.

Ground cherries taste different to everyone. Some people say they taste like nuts, others say pineapple, tomatoes and peanut butter … even Hawaiian pizza! These seasonal treats are seldom seen in the grocery store, and are a farmers market favorite.

Protected in their own little wrappers, these tiny "garden candies" are a perfectly yummy start to the school year. Local growers Starbright Acres Family Farm and The Posh Squash provided over 18,000 pieces to be sampled throughout the county.

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Ground cherries are not really cherries, but a relative of tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. They grow on low vining plants that drop their fruit on the ground when ripe (hence the name).

When sourcing enough produce to serve over 7,400 students, it can be difficult to work with smaller growers because of the vast quantity of food required to meet the needs of the program. Sometimes, it can be thousands of pounds.

Often, Sierra Harvest needs to work with bigger farms to meet the demand for Harvest of the Month. Not this month though. Both of the farms that provided ground cherries are small, family operations who work directly with local students in a number of ways.

In fact, both farms are run by women who are also "farm to school liaisons" with Sierra Harvest. That means, in addition to growing the food, they are the ones working directly with the schools to make sure each student gets a taste test. Go ladies!

The family farm

Starbright Acres Family Farm is a certified organic farm run by Ken and Aleta Barrett (with help from their kids, Xea and Sam). They produce nutritious, delicious, planet-friendly food for our local community and sell directly at the Nevada City Farmers Market, the Nevada County Certified Growers Markets, and at their farm stand.

They host many school field trips each year as a Sierra Harvest farm partner; where kids love to pet the goats, help with the harvest and see a thriving home scale farm in action. They separate the dirt and debris from the ground cherries using their own "GC Separator" that daughter Xea built as her eighth grade STEAM project.

The Posh Squash

If you have kids that have been out to the Food Love Farm, or who go to Scotten or Lyman Gilmore — chances are they know "Farmer Bri" (aka Brianna Abundiz). This powerhouse mother of five got into farming four years ago and can't be stopped.

Her energy for sharing her love of farming and food is contagious. After working with many local farmers, this year she started her own venture at Bluebird Farm where she grows mostly winter squash, pumpkins and ground cherries.

You can get your holiday pumpkins from her (and her kids) at the Nevada City farmers market from October through Thanksgiving — a portion of proceeds support the Farm to School Program at Scotten and Lyman Gilmore schools.

Amanda Thibodeau was the director of the Farm to School program for six years and now writes the Harvest of the Month article each month for Sierra Harvest.

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