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Sierra Harvest’s Tasting Days continues at Nevada County schools

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Monday night, Susan Gilleran struggled to sleep.

Excitement — and a bit of nervousness — had overcome her.

She awoke early to cook 100 tater tots, just in case anything went awry Tuesday.

Gilleran was one of many volunteer chefs for Sierra Harvest’s annual Tasting Days event, where chefs engage with Nevada County school students to teach kids how to cook healthy, local foods.

The nine-year project, run by the nonprofit that connects residents to locally-sourced food, holds 23 “Tasting Days” at 22 elementary schools and about five high schools in the county, said Sierra Harvest Engagement Manager Miriam Limov.

Every October the goal is to educate students how to purchase, cook and eat local food on a seasonal basis, said Limov. Volunteer chefs are asked to purchase half of their ingredients from county origins, with a $200 stipend. About 3,000 students participate in the farm-to-school program.

This year, Sierra Harvest has more volunteer chefs than open slots, according to Limov.

Without the program, students miss out on an important life skill, said Sierra Harvest co-director Aimee Retzler, adding that they often don’t learn to cook at home.

“I just get so much joy seeing kids fall in love with fresh food,” said Retzler. “They feel so proud that they are the chef.”


A troupe of second graders at Chicago Park School engaged Tuesday with a variety of ingredients on long, green cafeteria tables. They were mashing potatoes, mixing them in a bowl with eggs, cheese, winter squash and garlic, later shaping them into small, squishy cylinders. After adult chaperons tossed them into fryers the outcome was unmistakably tater tots.

“Do you make sushi?” one second grader asked Gilleran while the volunteer chef poured yogurt into small containers. The students were handed the containers, adding dill to the yogurt for dipping.

“(Kids) get really proud that they can do it all by themselves,” said Gilleran, who owned a pie business in the Bay Area before moving to Nevada County a few years ago. She’s been working with Sierra Harvest’s Tasting Days for three years.

Farm-to-school liaison at Chicago Park, Joy Drew, said students have been inquiring about Tasting Days for a while. On Tuesday, she said she witnessed “lots of messy hands” and “lots of smiles.”

Toward the end of the class period, the green tables were smeared with whites and grays, a mixture of seasoning that demonstrated the activity’s interactive quality.

“This is what it looks like when kids have fun,” said Gilleran.

Second grader Ashley Torres agreed.

“It has been really, really fun,” she said with a smile.

The tots were cooked to a golden brown, and the students appeared to enjoy them.

It turned out Gilleran need not worry after all.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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