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

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