Farm fresh taste: Sierra Harvest hosts tasting week, tours Nevada County schools |

Farm fresh taste: Sierra Harvest hosts tasting week, tours Nevada County schools

Chef Tiana Rockwell shows students at Chicago Park School how to prepare Quinoa Breakfast Muffins during tasting week sponsored by Sierra Harvest.
John Hart/ | The Union

Tasting Week 2014

The local farmers who helped supply the fresh ingredients for the tastings included AM Ranch, Bakbraken Acres, Boxcar Farm, Dinner Bell Farm, First Rain Farm, Food Love Project, Foothills Roots Farm, Harmony Valley Farm, Indian Springs Farm, Mountain Bounty Farm, Riverhill Farm, Starbright Acres, Super Tuber Farm, Sweet Roots Farm, and Woolman School Farm.

For Sierra Harvest, turning a large bowl of cooled quinoa, eggs, mozzarella cheese, kale and bacon into a baked muffin is not just a scrumptious breakfast snack, but an opportunity to bridge the gap between local farms and schools.

Local elementary and middle school students are being treated to local produce and quality cuisine from nearby farms and chefs through Sierra Harvest’s third annual tasting week.

As a component of the organization’s Farm to School program, tasting week began in the 2012-13 school year, in the hopes of exposing students, at a young age, to local farm-fresh produce and nutritional recipes.

“Tasting week is one week out of the year where schools invite guest chefs to come in and cook with the kids,” Sierra Harvest Co-Director Malaika Bishop said. “They are sourcing their ingredients from local farms, highlighting the ingredients from the farm in a menu item that they make for the kids at the classrooms.”

Bishop said the Farm to School program, which is funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the USDA, and individual donors, attempts to build relationships between local farms and schools in order to combat a reported rise in local obesity.

“We’ve gone from 3 percent obesity in this county to now over 20 percent of our citizens being obese,” Bishop said. “We want children not to have all those long-term health impacts from the diets that we’re eating now. So part of our Farm to School program is getting them to love fresh, local seasonal foods, to know their farmers and where their food comes from so they ask for it, and that will support the local demand for more local farming in this area as well.”

The program takes local farmers and pairs them up with schools across western Nevada County, building a relationship that includes in-class produce presentations from farmers, monthly food tastings, and the creation of a school produce cart.

Bishop says Sierra Harvest educates around 6,000 kids in the county every year, trains aspiring farmers and helps local families grow food from home. The tasting week is one aspect of the Farm to School program that exposes students to the benefits of cooking with local produce, bringing 22 different chefs to 19 different local schools.

“Each chef is coming in, donating their time, and doing four class presentations in a row, and all the recipes are on our website,” Bishop said. “In each school, our farm to school liaisons, who are either parents or teachers, basically run the Farm to School program and tasting week at their school.”

Heidi Zimmerman is the liaison for Chicago Park School, and says their guest chef was a nutritionist and Ironman athlete who taught the kids how to make a quinoa breakfast muffin.

“It went fantastic,” Zimmerman said. “They were able to do a hands-on recipe to make a breakfast muffin (that) had a lot of protein in it, and five different things to mix and cut and add. So every kid was able to participate.”

Zimmerman, who started off helping the school run a produce cart, decided to become a program liaison to help get more fresh food to students, to make them aware of where their food comes from.

“I think it really helps the community to come together and to be interactive together with teachers and parents and a liaison and a chef,” Zimmerman said. “Kids learn best by hands-on and interactive experiences, so it really makes a difference to teach them that way.”

Bishop said tasting week chefs will continue to serve local schools until Friday. Nevada City resident and published cookbook chef Mielle Chenier-Cowan Rose will bring some fresh squash into the Nevada City School of the Arts on Thursday to give to students.

“I’m going to roast a bunch of squash from Mountain Bounty Farm, which is the partner farm for the school,” Rose said. “It’s such a blessing that the kids get to be encouraged by something that maybe even their parents haven’t tried. They go home and ask for a butternut squash, and we get to send home recipes as well. I just think it’s so valuable for the kids to get exposed to stuff because a lot of homes are so overwhelmed and are just sticking to prepared foods.”

Bishop added, “I just want to say thank you to all the chefs who are donating their time to the program and to the local farms that are providing the produce. We couldn’t do it without them.”

For more information, go to

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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