This week’s guest post is by Aimee Retzler of Sierra Harvest (formerly Live Healthy Nevada County), a community organization in the Sierras that supports family farmers, child health, and other food systems programs in Nevada County. The organization also received a coveted USDA Farm to School Grant in 2014 to expand their farm to school program from 11 to 15 schools and establish a 2-acre educational farm, as well as ramp up nutrition education and connections with local farmers and chefs in the community. The story below is one example of that growing, inspiring work empowered by these grants.
Tasting Week is a special time here in Nevada County. The weeklong event combines the creativity of chefs with the natural curiosity of children. Children are able to expand their experience of different foods and flavors with a focus on fresh, locally-grown food. Chefs from all over the county introduced students from twenty elementary schools to delicious, fresh preparations of local ingredients. Many of these local items came from a farmer the students know through Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program.
Sierra Harvest began Tasting Week three years ago with two chefs in four schools. This year, more than 2,500 students participated.
Sierra Harvest co-director Malaika Bishop loves Tasting Week because “it’s a great way to get kids excited about fresh food–we hear things like, ‘If my mom made kale like this, I would eat it every night!’” Given the struggles today’s children face with health and nutrition, this kind of experiential nutrition education is critical in our community.
This year the chefs chose to prepare a wide variety of foods. Students tried unique squash dishes, such as Liam Blackmon’s (CaCoCo and the Fix for Foodies) Sweet and Savory Delicata Squash and Carlos Trujillo’s (Farm to Table Catering) Spaghetti with Bacon and Squash. Williams Ranch students tasted “Baked Big & Little Apples” with manzanita sugar from local plants, prepared by Living Wild co-author Alicia Funk. Laura Thorne of Way Yum Sushi engaged students at Grass Valley Charter in preparing their own sushi rolls, filled with carrots, cucumbers, avocados, crab, and organic sushi rice from local producer Lundberg Family Farms.
Grass Valley Charter students chose their own ingredients for the rolls, then learned how to roll them up and compact them with sushi mats.
The kindergarteners were some of the most adventurous tasters: “It makes my tummy feel good!” stated one student. Another thought the ginger tasted “like lemonade.” Even the wasabi was popular, especially with the 5th graders. One fifth grade gourmand asserted: “I can tell that this wasabi is fresh and organic – it tastes different.” Another fifth grader, who was trying sushi for the first time, was brutally honest: “It’s not the best thing I ever tasted, but not too bad either.”
Some of the teachers were surprised at how willing the kids were to try something new. Kindergarten teacher Cherie Wood was delighted: “They are really eating these! I’m so proud of them.”
You can find a complete list of participating chefs and farms, along with the recipes that were used, on the Sierra Harvest website at sierraharvest.org.
If you would like to contribute to the next Tasting Week or other Sierra Harvest programs, reach out! You can contact co-director Aimee Retzler at email@example.com.