BriarPatch Food Co-op began working with Sierra Harvest in 2008. Sierra Harvest’s mission is to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal food. They do this by delivering programs to meet community needs that address the problems of obesity, chronic disease, hunger and the loss of farmland. Programs for children include Farm to School, the Food Love Educational Farm, and School Food. The Farm to School program provides fresh, local produce and nutrition education to 9,500 students, preschool through community college in Western Nevada County Now celebrating its 11th year, Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Program has brought in over 87,000 pounds of organic, local fruits and vegetables to students and families through monthly tastings and school garden carts. Each year Sierra Harvest connects students and their families to fresh local foods and the farmers who grow them through the Harvest of the Month (HOM) Program. In 2018, BriarPatch donated 100 percent of the organic produce used for the Harvest of the Month Program, introducing students and their families to exciting, locally grown foods. This added up to 10,000 pounds of produce valued at an average of $3,000 per month for a total of $27,000 for the year. Harvest of the Month is a multi-dimensional educational program that includes produce tasting, a newsletter for each month’s featured fruit or vegetable, information about the local farm where the food was grown, serving tips, fun facts and simple recipes for families to make at home. Many times, the program introduces new foods and culinary tastes to families. For example, ground cherries were the featured fruit last September with a farmer supplied recipe for ground cherry salsa.
When Sierra Harvest was looking for a new funding partner to cover the growing expense and demand for providing thousands of students with organic produce, BriarPatch offered to fully fund the project. This helped to keep the growing program sustainable while enabling it to take a significant step forward. Sierra Harvest has added seven new schools to the Harvest of the month program with the support of BriarPatch Food Coop. The store’s Produce Manager David Benson gives advice on new products, like kumquats, that become future Harvest of the Month hits. Now this important project is thriving and BriarPatch is providing ways for its customers to give back through the Co-op CAUSE - Change Adds Up Supporting Everyone - program. In June 2019, store customers can choose to round up their purchase price at the cash register and donate to Sierra Harvest. Last year, BriarPatch donated over $52,000 to the community through this program. HOM is one of many ways BriarPatch supports the work of Sierra Harvest. Earlier in 2019, BriarPatch donated 40 pounds of soup to Sierra Harvest’s annual Soup Night which connects customers directly to local farmers helping to strengthen and build consumer demand for fresh, local food. The Co-op supports Sierra Harvest’s gleaning program, addressing food waste and food insecurity in Nevada County. Volunteers harvest fresh, seasonal produce that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to Interfaith Food Ministry which distributes it to over 8,000 people in need.
Education and access to healthy food are two of the co-op’s guiding principles. BriarPatch’s support of Sierra Harvest’s HOM ensures thousands of school children and their families have access to fresh, organic produce. The program also educates families about where their food comes from, forging community connections with farmers, thus ensuring a resilient local food system. Introducing children to the diverse world of vegetables plants the seed of healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime and prevent the onset of nutrition-related problems like obesity.
In the past year, 7,528 students in 33 schools were positively impacted by the Harvest of the Month program. Many of these students live in low-income households, suffer from food insecurity at home and/ or don’t have access to healthy, organic food. In 2018, nearly 50 percent of students in Nevada County enrolled in the federally-funded free and reduced meal program. Across the full economic spectrum, many children in area schools have never tasted fresh fruit or a vegetable just picked from a local farm. Sierra Harvest provides opportunities to try new foods that are healthy and delicious and influence positive eating habits that can last into adulthood. Families are now reporting children who turned up their nose to vegetables before are now asking for salad every night. A year-end survey of participants of the program found a 43 percent increase in the number of students who liked fruits and vegetables after trying them through HOM. As many as 76 percent of students tried something new last year through HOM and 56 percent ate more HOM fruits and veggies after trying at school. At a time when childhood obesity has become a serious problem in the U.S., especially among lower income families, healthy eating habits formed in childhood is a social issue in need of attention. Every child deserves a school food program that provides healthy meals and nutritional education. The Harvest of the Month program gives families fun opportunities to try quality foods that taste great and recipes they can use at home to cook healthy meals together. Combined with other programs - like Calfresh (food stamps) and the backyard Sierra Garden program - families are using tangible tools that empower them to make healthy choices to improve their lives. Link to videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYY_RL3mYv0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcgS9CnX9ZI&t=33s
“The partnership between Sierra Harvest and BriarPatch Food Co-op has transformed the way our community eats and thinks about its sustainability. The Harvest of the Month program reaches out to the most vulnerable members of our community and connects them with sources for fresh, healthy food. Anyone who has children will not be surprised by the fact that this is one of the most effective ways to drive families toward better eating habits.” - Chris Maher, General Manager, BriarPatch Food Co-op