The 2015 Season Has Started

Nevada County’s “Gleaning Season” is upon us. It’s hard to believe. Most gardeners in Nevada County don’t start planting veggies until Mother’s Day. Many people in the Sierra Foothills use Mother’s Day as the quintessential benchmark to signal that it’s time to plant their gardens. Many people in Western Nevada County live at elevations still fearing frost this time of year. This year is different.

The Gold Country Gleaners don’t usually start getting calls until the first stone fruit, usually cherries, start to ripen. This year, after an unreasonably warm winter, we have heard from several people who felt inspired to start planting before the usual time, and who now have more chard, kale, and broccoli than they know what to do with.

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Don’t worry. We are happy to take it. We can come pick it up.

The “Gold Country Gleaners” is an all-volunteer charity organization that pairs unused produce with people in need. We work with farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and even local grocery stores to distribute excess produce to local non-profit organizations that serve the needy. We have an on-going relationship with Nevada County’s Food Bank, the Interfaith Food Ministry, Women of Worth, Spirit Peer Empowerment Center, Sierra Roots, Hospitality House, Divine Spark, the North San Juan Family Resource Center, the Salvation Army, and more.

Our large list of donor organizations use the produce in order to distribute food to hungry families or use the produce in prepared meals to feed clients or the hungry populations they serve. We work with professional farmers, amateur farmers, small gardeners, large orchards, homesteaders, backyard warriors, and anyone who might have an excess of produce at any particular time.

Last year, we donated over five tons of locally-grown produce to local non-profit organizations. Mountain Bounty Farm was a rock star donor and, by-far, our largest donor last year and the year before. (Thank you Mountain Bounty! Support Mountain Bounty here.) More than 98% of farm donations to the Gold Country Gleaners go to directly support our donor organizations. The other two percent of farm donations go to volunteers and to organizations that help support the Gold Country Gleaners.

Chard

Chard

It’s not just farms that contribute. Many of our donations come from neighbors. Often donations come from someone who has a large fruit tree (or several trees) in their yard. We get a lot of calls for breaking branches. We are available to clean up a tree and make sure that the fruit gets distributed in an orderly fashion to several people in need. We also get a lot of calls for zucchini in the summer, which we are happy to take and find a home for.

If a gardener or homeowner needs help with a tree or garden, we are happy to help. We are happy to come out and pick. We offer the home-owner or donating business one third of the pick from the Gleaners free services. If you only need a few buckets of what you have produced, and you want to be able to donate the rest to worthy organizations, the Gold Country Gleaners can assist you by sending our volunteers to do the work for you.

Why do volunteers sign up with the Gleaners to fetch fruits and veggies? We keep our volunteers happy with fresh produce. Our volunteers sign up to pick because we allow them to keep a small fraction of the produce they pick. For people who love to put up jam, or freeze veggies, this organization creates a win-win situation.

The Gold Country Gleaners’ organization continues to serve Western Nevada County by pairing our local food resources with those in need of food. We distribute the local food that gets donated to local organizations that have systems in place, making sure that adequate distribution is received by all those in need.

If you would like to sign up to volunteer, or contact us to donate, please email us at goldcountrygleaners@gmail.com or call (530) 264-8680.

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Sierra Roots: Food Integrity In Nevada County

The Gold Country Gleaners partner with several non-profit organizations throughout the year and with local food pantries in Nevada County to help strengthen food security in our community. Sierra Roots is just one of the many organizations that receive produce through the efforts of the Gleaners. Sierra Roots is an incredible organization and we would like to take the time to highlight their wonderful work.
On Thursday, July 24th, I went to the Sierra Roots weekly “picnic” out at Pioneer Park in Nevada City. Every Thursday at 11:30am, Sierra Roots hosts an event to feed the hungry in Nevada County. Anyone is welcome and they provide a meal that is organic and gluten-free, with several vegetarian and vegan options. They are careful to use separate dishes for meat and to make sure that there are options for people with allergies to soy, nuts or dairy. Sierra Roots is on the cutting edge of food distribution.

Volunteers (left to right) Jackie Wilson, Pauli Halstead, Kathy Waldron and Douglas Raglin

Volunteers (left to right) Jackie Wilson, Pauli Halstead, Kathy Waldron and Douglas Raglin

Sierra Roots is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to stay “dedicated to creating a strategic infrastructure that will offer sustainable solutions to local homelessness, while supporting our farmers, economy, and community.” At their food distribution event I had the pleasure to talk to a man named Rick. It was his first time receiving a meal from Sierra Roots. “This meal rocks!” He exclaimed enthusiastically. “I feel like I’m eating at the Briar Patch or Whole Foods,” he remarked, referring to grocery stores known for their selection of high-quality, fresh and organic products. Rick has lived in Nevada County for the past five years.

Prior to the meal on Thursday, I contacted Pauli Halstead, a volunteer with Sierra Roots, on the Monday before. I wanted to make sure that she had received the vegetables and the flat of strawberries that I had dropped off on her porch, a donation received through the Gold Country Gleaners. She explained that she would be using the vegetables to make a curry and that her next-door-neighbor, Kathy, would be helping with the strawberries and making a gluten-free, low-sugar shortcake. She explained that they would be using the fruits and vegetables to serve a complete meal to those in need.

Sierra Roots serves shortcakes to the hungry.

Sierra Roots serves shortcakes to the hungry.

When many people think of a “soup kitchen” or a place that feeds the hungry, often they envision a scene similar to the one from the 1968 film Oliver, where a lumpy, gray porridge is being served to orphans. When Sierra Roots started three years ago in Nevada County, the volunteers had an entirely different vision. They believed that healthy food fosters a healthy community. The organizers of Sierra Roots wanted to ensure that the population of those who are most in need in Nevada County could have access to, not just food, but to healthy and wholesome food.

Sierra Roots’ progressive and thoughtful approach to serving healthy food to those in need may be helping our community in more ways than one. In 2004, The American Society for Clinical Nutrition published a groundbreaking article about the correlations between poverty, obesity and malnutrition. The article explained that “many health disparities in the United States are linked to inequalities in education and income.” It provided evidence to support the fact that “the highest rates of obesity and malnutrition occur among population groups with the highest poverty rates.” The article linked studies about food insecurity, malnutrition and diets that are associated with lower food expenditures. It explained that, because foods that are high in fat and sugar often cost less than their more nutritious counterparts, they frequently become the choices of those requiring assistance for their food needs.

A lack of available nutrition for our most disenfranchised populations creates a negative feedback loop for local communities. When people don’t have access to healthy food for extended periods of time, they are often in need of other resources such as health care, mental health services, disability services and other services that could be reduced or mitigated by a healthful diet. Sierra Roots is helping to combat the myriad of problems associated with poverty and malnutrition. When a community commits to providing healthy food for those who most need it, the community benefits exponentially.

The Gold Country Gleaners will take any type of produce in any amount. We will take the largest zucchini and the smallest berry. We do not specifically seek out organic produce or a certain type of vegetable or fruit. We will take anything and everything because our food pantries and donation centers will take anything and everything. We are fortunate to live in a place where so many of our farmers and gardeners use organic and sustainable practices and we are thankful when we can serve those who have specific dietary constitutions.

The Gleaner’s relationship with Sierra Roots is new this year and seems to be a perfect fit. John Tecklin of Mountain Bounty Farm put Pauli Halstead and I in touch after she asked at the Farmer’s Market about receiving donations.

The Gold Country Gleaners have partnered with Mountain Bounty Farm for more than three years now. As the largest vegetable farm in Nevada County, Mountain Bounty was a prime candidate for a partnership with the Gleaners. The Gleaners have the volunteer base and the resources to make it convenient for a farm like Mountain Bounty to get their leftover produce out to local, reputable organizations feeding those in need. The Gold Country Gleaners have been awestruck by the generosity of John Tecklin, his family, his staff ,and his farm. Their contribution in the past years has been a steady and abundant resource for those in need in our community. The added bonus is that Mountain Bounty Farm is an organic farm. (For people who are looking for an incredible CSA in Nevada County with wonderful weekly produce, I cannot say enough good things about Mountain Bounty Farm. Please check them out at mountainbountyfarm.com.)

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Maybe we don’t think that those in need might also have a preference and a desire to adhere to certain dietary choices or restrictions. One of my most eye-opening moments with the Gold Country Gleaners involved one of the shelters we regularly work with. I was dropping off a donation of vegetables and the organizer at the shelter said to me, “You have no idea what a help this is right now. Almost all of our current residents are vegetarians.” Of course, it was completely ignorant of me, but it had never occurred to me that people needing food, might also have strict dietary guidelines to adhere to. The people we serve have dignity and they should be afforded every opportunity to hold fast to certain beliefs or nutritional standards. I’m thankful that the Gold Country Gleaners, and the organizations we partner with, are working to accomplish that.

Last Thursday, Sierra Roots served a meal with the help of the Gold Country Gleaners and our local farmers and gardeners. There were more than forty people who received food, including a handful of small children. I talked to several people in attendance. For many, this would be the only organic meal they would eat all week. For some, it was the only meal that included fresh fruits and vegetables in almost a month.

Bill Kerr, a board member for Sierra Roots, came to the Thursday meal to support the volunteers. “This work is important,” he said. “It is very important to a community of disenfranchised people.” He explained that, ultimately, Sierra Roots would like to have a co-operative farm that could provide a place for our homeless and at-risk population to live and work. Until then, Sierra Roots is feeding the hungry with a comprehensive, whole-foods approach to nutrition. Sierra Roots is serving delicious and nutritious meals and they are well received.

If you would like to learn more or volunteer with Sierra Roots, you can find more information at http://www.sierraroots.org

One Tree? No Problem!

On July 9th 2014, Nevada County’s local newspaper, The Union, published an article about the wonderful work that the Gold Country Gleaners are doing in Nevada County. One of our volunteers was quoted as saying that “there is no job too big or too small.” We really cannot stress this enough.

Last week we got a call from a woman named Alice. She said that she had one plum tree in her yard. “I’m 94 years old and I just don’t get on ladders any longer.” She asked if the Gold Country Gleaners would be interested in “just the one tree.”

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We sent out two volunteers the next afternoon. They came back with 38 pounds of plums for the Interfaith Food Ministry.

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Because we have volunteers who live and work in all corners of Nevada County, it is easy to get the right volunteers for the job. Our message: Don’t hesitate to ask!

City Mice

 

There are few things more beautiful than an organic farm in the first few days of summer. My nieces are visiting from the Bay Area and I had the privilege to take them to Mountain Bounty Farm this morning. They are 12- and 13-years-old and got up early today to volunteer their time with the Gold Country Gleaners.

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We got to Mountain Bounty Farm at 7:45am, just when the cool air had all but worn off. There were butterflies touching their noses to yellow flowers and bees bowing to bolted broccoli. It was breath-taking.

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My nieces are definitely “city mice” but they are not totally ignorant about country ways and where their food comes from. My nieces have spent enough time with us in the country, and have spent many days on local farms while visiting us here in Nevada County. They like the country and they love to visit farms. Today was no exception.

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The girls and I spent the morning picking vegetables with, Clif Mackinlay, another Gleaners volunteer. The owner of Mountain Bounty Farm, John Tecklin, and his skilled farm managers, are great at preparing the fields for succession planting so that the farm’s CSA and market customers always have the best of the best and a wide variety of veggies, lettuce and herbs. The fields were filled with a variety of greenery.

I laughed when the 12-year-old, Mariana, said today, “Auntie, this plant smells like pickles.” She was standing next to a wispy-leafed plant with big, yellow sprigs of flowers. She thought for a moment and asked, “Is this dill?”

It sure was. “Yep!” I said. “Nice plant identification!”

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Mountain Bounty Farm is in full swing right now but many of the cruciferous vegetables out at the farm are in their last days. For Mountain Bounty and their customers, they have had their fill of vegetables like cabbage and bok choy; they are now moving onto other varieties that are more in season.

Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy grow better in the late winter and early spring up here in the Sierra Foothills. With summer upon us, things like cabbage and bok choy are starting to bolt. The CSA and market customers have delightfully gotten the cream of the crop (quite literally) but there were still some very nice cabbages and lots of bok choy left in the field. That’s where gleaning comes in.

The concept of gleaning dates back to before the Christian bible was written. In other parts of the world, gleaning has been a staple of consistent community service for centuries. In Nevada County, our most organized efforts have taken place in the past few years. Last year, we really took off. Last year alone, we donated more than five tons of food to local organizations. The Gold Country Gleaners have been called out to orchards, homesteads, farms and gardens to help with gathering and donating food.

I’m not sure how effective my nieces and I were in the field at Mountain Bounty today. I cut heads of cabbage away from the roots with my knife and tossed them to the girls who ran the cabbages back to boxes up the hill. I think we probably looked more like we were running a P.E. drill than like we were farming.

Pulling the bok choy and helping Clif with things like fennel and lettuce proved even more of a mess. As we tried to separate the plants from their strong roots, we found ourselves covered in dirt and often times holding leaves and stalks, rather than a whole bunch. Still, we worked hard and eventually came up with nearly twenty boxes of veggies to take to our local food pantries.

Clif Mackinlay had a much easier time than the three of us. He is a skilled harvester and is much more patient than a couple of teenaged-girls and their auntie. I watched him as he carefully harvested lettuce and a green, leafy vegetable related to bok choy. He had large stalks of fennel and several boxes filled with neatly picked greens.

We agreed that my nieces and I would go to the San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center to drop off some produce and then to the Interfaith Food Ministry in Grass Valley. Clif would go to the Salvation Army, Hospitality House, and then to the Nevada County Food bank.

Altogether, the Gold Country Gleaners donated about 50 boxes of food and several work-hours to help feed the hungry in Nevada County today. We served several non-profits and made sure that our food pantries were stocked.

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My nieces were happy to help and they had a great time. I’m glad that we all had a nice day out on the farm.

 

Food For Thought

 

I saw a man today in Grass Valley picking out food from the garbage. He was older, with short hair and bifocal glasses. He hadn’t shaved in a few days but his clothes looked clean and he had a hopeful smile on his face. He was rummaging through some yellowish broccoli placed in bags outside of the Interfaith Food Ministry, on its way to the dumpster. I was making a food delivery, a large donation of organic vegetables. The man passed me on his way back to his car. I handed him some carrots and beets.

yellowing broccoli

The Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) is a United Way partner organization and just one of a handful of different food pantries in Nevada County. I’m not sure why the man decided to go through the garbage instead of waiting in line. Mondays are a distribution day for the IFM. Maybe he had already used their services and wasn’t yet eligible for another dispersion.

IFM is operated by volunteers and provides food to those in need. They are working to be able to give clients food on a weekly basis but, right now, they only have the resources to provide food every-other-week. Their website indicates that, “Everyone needs a little help now and then. IFM distributes nutritious food to individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet. We are open at our 440 Henderson Street, GV, location every [Monday, Wednesday and Friday] from 10 am – 1 pm. Each individual or family may receive community donated food one time every two weeks regardless of immigration status.”

The Gold Country Gleaners bring food to the Interfaith Food Ministry every Monday morning during the summer, and as often as possible in the off-season months. Our volunteers pick up organic vegetables from Mountain Bounty Farm and deliver it to several locations, including the IFM. When I got to their doors this morning, at about 9:50am, ten minutes before the doors opened for distribution, there was a line that stretched the entire length of the building and spilled out into the parking lot. There had to be at least 100 people waiting. That’s when I saw the man go through the garbage.

Last year, in an interview for a local newsletter, I said, “No one in Nevada County should have to go hungry. We are a place of kindness and abundance with many, many opportunities to grow and harvest food. With community support and helping hands, all of the food grown in Nevada County could be harvested. All of the food could be eaten. Everyone in our community should be fed.”

Shortly after delivering vegetables, on my drive home, I saw my neighbors in their garden working to pull weeds amongst chard and kale. From the street I could see their tall tomato vines and a few pepper plants. I’m a gardener myself and have been startled to see ripening tomatoes and peppers already this season.

In the heat of summer and with a thriving garden, it is easy to forget that there are people very much in need in our community. Even with the incredible efforts of our food pantries and our non-profit organizations who spend countless volunteer hours to try and help those in need, we still have people in our community who need help.

Next time you are in the grocery store, please drop something off in the many food bank collection bins at the front of the store. Even if it is just one extra thing. A little bit can go a long way.

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If you would like to get involved with the Gold Country Gleaners, either by picking or donating produce, please contact us. We would be happy to have you!

Hilary Hodge for the Gold Country Gleaners

 

Bounty

Monday, June 16th was a super day for the Gold Country Gleaners! It was the first Monday after the “official” Farmer’s Market Season in Nevada County. I have to use the term “official” loosely because, here in Nevada County, we have a Grower’s Market, a Downtown Market, and a bunch of other markets throughout the year, but the season really gets started after Memorial Day, when the Nevada City Farmer’s Market starts.

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The Gold Country Gleaners have been working with Mountain Bounty Farm for the past three years to bring fresh, organic produce to the hungry in Nevada County.

Mountain Bounty is locally famous for their “CSA” boxes, or Community Supported Agriculture boxes, a locally-based economic model that delivers fruits and vegetables (and sometimes flowers) to local people for an initial investment in the farm itself. For example, with Mountain Bounty, in addition to fruits and vegetables, you can pay $198 for 18 weeks of fresh flower bouquets. Mountain Bounty is one of the few farms locally that provides a Winter Vegetable CSA in addition to a Summer Vegetable CSA. Both boxes are amazing. For more information, please go to http://mountainbountyfarm.com/

For the past three years, during the farmer’s market season, Mountain Bounty Farm has donated their leftovers that they can’t sell at the farmer’s market to the Gold Country Gleaners on Monday morning.

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I got a call from John Tecklin, the owner of Mountain Bounty Farm, just before my Monday morning trip out to the farm. There was an air of dilemma in his voice. He said to me, “Hey. I think you might need a pick-up truck.”

“Uh-oh. Is there that much stuff?” I grinned. It was a blessing that I was prepared to deal with.

“There is a lot of produce.” He replied.

On Monday morning, I packed my 4-door Honda CRV from front to back and floor to ceiling with boxes of veggies. I put a blanket on the floor of my car and piled carrots and beets on top.

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There are several organizations in Nevada County that help to feed the hungry. There is the Nevada County Food Bank, the Interfaith Food Ministry, Sierra Roots, Women of Worth, The Salvation Army, and The San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center, just to name a few. The Gold Country Gleaners has donated to them all and continues to provide fresh, healthy, local produce to those in need in Nevada County.

I made five stops in Nevada County on June 16th, bringing produce to food pantries and local organizations. I received smiles where ever I went.

The Gold Country Gleaners are forever grateful to our donors. More often than not, farmers and gardeners just don’t have the time to deal with extra produce. The Gleaners have organized the people-power to pick-up food and deliver it. We have folks who go out to farms and pick the food on site. We have equipment and orchard ladders to pick fruit. We even have volunteers who have helped to prune trees in the fall and winter.

Our hats are off to John Tecklin and Mountain Bounty Farm for their continued commitment to helping feed Nevada County. If you have a farm or garden with extra fruits and veggies, we would be happy to assist you in getting those extras to our community members in need. Give us a call or email us. Thanks!

Hilary Hodge for the Gold Country Gleaners