Planting seeds: Sierra Harvest gets Nevada County kids excited about fresh, local food | TheUnion.com

Planting seeds: Sierra Harvest gets Nevada County kids excited about fresh, local food

Second graders from Clear Creek Elementary dug into the soil at Food Love farm on Wednesday and planted 60 bunches of rainbow chard, giving them a small taste of the daily life of a Nevada County vegetable farmer.

The students will return to Food Love in the fall, when crops are being harvested, and will join farmer Maggie McProud for a food tasting and nutrition education lesson.

McProud, who runs the Food Love program, hopes that the students will build off their experience planting in the spring, and have the chance to watch the farm transform with the seasons when they return.

Food Love is the educational farm site for Sierra Harvest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring and connecting Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal foods. The farm sits on nearly an acre at the Bear Yuba Land Trust's Burton Homestead on Purdon Road.

McProud, who has run the farm since 2016, often hosts multiple field trips for K-6 students each week.

She helps students connect the dots where there are gaps in their understanding of the food cycle, and helps them to see outside of the "convenience model" of food, which she said most of us have been exposed to our whole lives.

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"The students start to understand how much work it actually takes to grow healthy food," said McProud.

Sustainable community

Currently, only about 2 percent of the food consumed in Nevada County is grown locally and sustainably, said Malaika Bishop, co-director of Sierra Harvest.

The organization aims to increase that number to 25 percent in the coming years through its education programs, which teach local children the value of healthy, fresh food, and through a variety of other programs designed to increase the amount agricultural land in the county and support farmers, who often struggle to make ends meet.

The "Farm to School" program connects 22 local schools to Sierra Harvest's partner farms, and 98 percent of the K-8 student population in Western Nevada County participates. The program includes monthly tastings of seasonal produce, farm field trips, school produce stands and classroom visits by chefs and farmers.

"We're starting to see tremendous change among the kids who participate in the program," said Bishop.

She said students are asking their parents for fresh produce at home, and are also advocating for better food at school.

As a result, 4,000 students on six school campuses now have access to salad bars. In 2012, there were none.

At Food Love farm, the students get a direct view into how that fresh food is grown.

Food love

The farm has hosted over 2,000 visitors each year since its founding in 2010 by farmer Amanda Thibodeau.

In a county where over 14,000 individuals are reported to be food insecure, Sierra Harvest believes that education is an important step toward a healthier, more sustainable community.

The farm is also open to community volunteers. McProud hosts a workday every Tuesday for those willing to donate their time and labor. Any extra help McProud receives with daily tasks on the farm provides an opportunity for her to spend time improving the Food Love program for kids.

Recently, with the help of volunteers, she completed a new greenhouse that has tripled the amount of food produced at the farm, most of which goes directly to local schools. The farm also accepts purchases from CalFresh recipients, who can use their benefits to buy fruits and vegetables directly from Food Love.

In July, the farm will host its annual summer camp, which offers two week-long sessions designed to get kids outdoors, thinking creatively and learning about healthy food and nutrition. The camp is open to children ages 6-11.

Visit sierraharvest.org for registration details.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com, or call 530-477-4231.

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