Brian Hamilton: Sierra Harvest changing how we look at food | TheUnion.com

Brian Hamilton: Sierra Harvest changing how we look at food

Look, I'm no foodie. Far from it. Just the other night, our 12-year-old daughter pretty much declared as much at the dinner table.

"Dad's not picky," she said. "He eats whatever is put in front of him."

Aside from sweet potatoes and pumpkin, she's right. And my wife's rolling eyes will serve witness to my not-so sophisticated palate.

"It's good," is my typical contribution to the conversation, as I continue in my effort to clean my plate to serve as "Exhibit A" of my said "review."

“It got me trying more vegetables and fruits … So, if you don’t like a blueberry or a carrot or something, just try it to see what it tastes like. It’s not like you’re going to get poisoned.”

— Wyatt, 10, on Sierra Harvest’s “Harvest of the Week” program

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But even a bland boy like me can appreciate the distinct difference between devouring fresh, healthy food and stomaching that of the not-so fresh, processed variety.

And thanks to Sierra Harvest, today there are thousands of kids all across western Nevada County who do as well.

"Sierra Harvest is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and connecting western Nevada County's families to fresh, local, seasonal foods," the organization's website states. "We accomplish this by offering farm to school programming, supporting farm fresh school meals, mentoring aspiring farmers and gardeners, celebrating our local food community and advocating for just, sustainable food systems."

While that description might seem more than a mouthful, be assured Sierra Harvest hasn't bitten off more than it can chew.

On Saturday, a couple hundred people gathered at the Veterans Memorial Building in Grass Valley to get a snapshot of the good work Sierra Harvest has done, and is doing, in our community. And there's not much doubt the audience — which included many western county leaders, both of the elected and volunteer variety — was impressed and inspired. They also likely left the brunch with a smile on their faces and warm hearts from laughing while the lovable 10-year-old Wyatt shared his own story in how Sierra Harvest helped change his taste for fresh fruits and veggies.

"My favorite food is pancakes," Wyatt says in a film sharing the Sierra Harvest story (See accompanying video). "And something I don't like to eat is mushrooms; they just have a really slimy, gross taste that kind of freaks me out."

I'm with ya Wyatt — kind of sums up my thoughts on sweet potatoes — but throw those mushrooms into a salad or on a pizza and I'm game to give them another try.

Wyatt is among the more than 6,700 students who have participated in the Harvest of the Month program at our local schools. Monthly tastings have reached the tongue of 96 percent of our K-8 students. Wyatt's experience with the program led to him raving about fresh cabbage and shifting his approach to trying new foods.

"I used to be a really picky eater about vegetables and fruits. I used to be like 'Eww gross … I thought it would be really nasty, but it turns out it wasn't that nasty.'"

"It got me trying more vegetables and fruits … So, if you don't like a blueberry or a carrot or something, just try it to see what it tastes like. It's not like you're going to get poisoned."

Exactly. And it's possible that you'll find some new favorite foods and be healthier down the road. Of course that's one key objective of the Sierra Harvest mission, as our county health report states one in three Nevada County kids are currently overweight and it's projected that 50 percent will be obese within the next 15 years.

But that path forward won't be changed only in the classroom. Sierra Harvest also is working with families to grow their own fresh foods through its Sierra Gardens program, which brings expert growers alongside families to build backyard gardens and provide mentoring and supplies for two years to ensure success. And among its various programs, the organization is launching the Sierra Harvest Farm Institute, which will continue its efforts at supporting new farmers — as it has done through internships with 30 young farmers in recent years.

In addition to all the personal success stories at Saturday's discussion, co-directors Malaika Bishop and Aimee Retzler shared a pretty lofty goal with the crowd. Sierra Harvest seeks to increase the amount of local food we consume from the current 2 percent to 25 percent in the next 10 years. It's an effort they project to not only serve as a boost to our health, but also our economy by bringing home $67 million spent on food from outside the community.

Meeting such a target means more farms and scaling up the efforts of those already operating. To get a clearer picture on bringing that goal into focus, Sierra Harvest is working on a strategy to study our local food systems. All said, it's quite clear Sierra Harvest's efforts go beyond encouraging healthy choices. It's changing the way we look at the food we consume.

But still, no need to pass the sweet potatoes this way.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.

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