Sierra Harvest’s tasting week brings farm-fresh foods into the classroom |

Sierra Harvest’s tasting week brings farm-fresh foods into the classroom

Ana Lloyd, lead prep chef at Summer Thyme's Bakery & Deli, shows second graders at Grass Valley Charter School how to make masa, or the dough filling, for tamales during Sierra Harvest's tasting week.
Emily Lavin/ |

They had mixed the masa, tossed together the corn and locally-grown Anaheim peppers and shredded zucchini and laid the corn husks out on napkins in front of them; the two dozen or so second-graders at Grass Valley Charter School were ready to make tamales.

Amy Cooke, the co-owner of Grass Valley’s Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli, and Ana Lloyd, the restaurant’s lead prep chef, walked around to the four tables set up in the school’s staff room, showing students how to spread the masa, or dough, into a thin layer inside the corn husk and dropping spoonfuls of the vegetable mixture on top.

As the students received instructions on how to properly fold the tamales, second grader Christopher DeSena was already thinking a few steps ahead.

“I just wanna eat it,” he said.

“Kids are learning about how to make interesting, creative, fun food and be excited about that by using local, seasonal produce, too.”Miriam LimovSierra Harvest engagement manager

Forget farm to table. During Sierra Harvest’s tasting week, the farm-fresh vegetables come straight to the classroom. From Nov. 2-6, local chefs visit Nevada County schools to teach students how to make healthy food using ingredients sourced from area farms.

At the end of the session, students take home a recipe and, in many cases, a newfound appreciation for a food they may not have tried before.

“Kids are learning about how to make interesting, creative, fun food and be excited about that by using local, seasonal produce, too,” said Miriam Limov, the engagement manager at Sierra Harvest, a Nevada City-based nonprofit that aims to connect Nevada County residents to local food.

Tasting week began in 2012, and is a component of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program. Through Farm to School, the nonprofit hosts harvest of the month tastings in classrooms, facilitates student field trips to partner farms, and helps establish weekly produce stands at schools that feature locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

“Ultimately our goal is that kids become more healthy, and we reverse these trends of diabetes and heart disease and obesity that are plaguing the nation,” said Malaika Bishop, the co-director of Sierra Harvest.

This year’s tasting week was the organization’s biggest yet, Bishop said.

Twenty-six chefs visited 115 classrooms in 20 schools, teaching a total of about 3,000 students to make butternut squash pie, vegetable-topped crackers, sweet potato dishes and roasted red pepper cream cheese, among other dishes.

Bishop said the week-long event helps students draw a connection between some of the components of the Farm to School program they’ve been participating in at their school.

“They’ve gone out to the farm, met (the growers) in the classroom and now they’re actually cooking with that food that their farm partner has been providing all year long,” Bishop said.

The participating chefs all volunteer their time to cook with students, often doing several half-hour demonstrations at a particular school. This is Cooke’s third year participating in the event; as a former teacher, she’s passionate about integrating food and nutrition into the classroom. For her, tasting week is another opportunity to help students understand that food doesn’t originate in cans or boxes at the grocery store.

“Food comes from people who plant food, who harvest food, who grow that food, all the way up to it landing on the plate,” Cooke said.

And that’s an important lesson for anyone, said Ike Frazee, the owner of Ike’s Quarter Cafe in Nevada City who has participated in tasting week for three years — but especially for kids.

“You get them early and you make them eat something that they wouldn’t normally eat that they’re going to remember and they like it,” Frazee said.

But getting students to give those farm-fresh vegetables a try isn’t always easy — and that’s why tasting week is such a crucial component of the Farm to School program, Bishop said.

“Because they’re participating in cooking something, they’re much more likely to taste it,” she said.

She’s seen various components of the organization’s Farm to School Program impact students.

There was the class that left their tasting week demonstration raving about kale, and the student who learned he liked cabbage after several months of refusing to try any Harvest of the Month tastings.

She said the organization has seen an increase in the number of students who can name local farms, and an increase in the number of students who say they like fruits and vegetables.

And hopefully, Bishop said, the farm-to-table concepts the kids are exposed to in school will carry over into their homes, as well.

“We do hear a lot of the parents saying, ‘Oh yeah, my kid brought home a recipe, took me out shopping, and said this is what I’m making for dinner,’” Bishop said. “They get really excited and it gives them a sense of pride to make something for their family.”

The Grass Valley Charter School second-graders who take home the tamale recipe from their demonstration Wednesday morning have Cooke’s seal of approval if they choose to recreate the meal with family.

“You are all expert tamale makers,” she told the class as they finished folding their corn husks.

A little later, it was time to dig in.

“What do you think of tamales?” Cooke asked the class once most students had tried a few bites.

Several hands shot into the air, giving Cooke the thumbs-up.

But the definitive response came from second-grader Marilyn Ward.

“I want another,” she said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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