“If you are going to love carrots, your best bet is to try them fresh from the farm – and Matthew Martin’s carrots are some of the sweetest carrots you are ever going to taste!” Gina Sims exclaims. Matthew Martin is the President/Owner and Head Farmer of Pyramid Farms in Chico. He is also the Farmer of the Month in April 2011 for 35,000 kindergarten through 12th grade public school students throughout the North State.
Gina Sims is a Health Education Specialist with the Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion at CSU, Chico (CNAP). Together with her colleague Sheila St. Cin, the team spearheads the local Farmer of the Month Program (FOTM) throughout the almost 10 counties of the North State. Besides being long-time health educators, both women are mothers of young children and enthusiastic home gardeners. They love good fresh produce themselves and encourage this love in their own children. They want to help make the connection between local, seasonal produce and great taste for public school students in our region. The FOTM program began as a result of an epiphany Sims had while working on the local implementation of a larger statewide Harvest of the Month initiative administered by the Network for a Healthy California since about 2004. The Harvest of the Month Program (HOTM) strives to encourage students – and thus their families – to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables by introducing a new fresh fruit or vegetable to them each month, as well developing educational, nutritional and cooking/eating idea materials for teachers to easily integrate into their regular curricula and standards. “We live in a very agriculturally rich region. I love going to my farmers markets, I like to meet and chat with the growers – and as an organization, we thought that the Harvest of the Month program in our area would be even better if we could source the Harvest of the Month item from a local grower and tell our local students the story of that grower and how they get their particular product from field to the kids’ fingertips.” And that’s just what she proposed. The Farmer of the Month program kicked off in September OF 2007 with Butte County apples grown by Frank and Sally Mazzarino of Green Cedar Farm in Berry Creek. Photo: From left to right: Health and gardening educators Sheila St. Cin and Gina Sims.
Writing in the recently released Buy Fresh Buy Local North Valley: Eater’s Guide to Local Food for Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties, Sims and Cindy Wolff, the Director of CNAP, emphasize that with growing health issues for children throughout our region (and the country), “…it is more important than ever for each of us to take small steps to grow healthier children and communities. Our strategy is to teach children where their food comes from and provide them with opportunities to experience fresh, local fruits and vegetables.” Photo: Farmer of the Month in September of 2009, Butte County apple grower Bryan Howard of Howard’s Natural Produce.
Since 2008, the FOTM has introduced North State Public School students to approximately 22 local growers of fresh produce and told the stories of them, their families and how the fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, harvested, stored and shipped. “It’s not about there being just one good grower of these particular fruits and vegetables in our region, it is rather about making the strong connection for students that it is people just like them that grow their food. And these people care about that food and love what they do,” Sims and St. Cin say.
A beautiful example of how the Farmer of Month Program helps to communicate these stories is through the educational newsletters they produce about the growers and their produce for use in the classrooms that will be sampling their fruits or vegetables. They include descriptions such as this one from the educational newsletter about Bob and Marcia White and their Orland grown organic cherries, the Farmer of the Month for the Harvest of the Month in May of 2009: “When you ask Bob White what he loves about farming, he shares, “My favorite thing is being on my tractor at night, under the moonlight, spraying my orchards because it is so peaceful and quiet.” Bob is a certified organic grower, and to keep his trees healthy, he uses the spray technique to “spoon feed” his trees the minerals and nutrients they need to stay healthy. Bob says they are the same minerals that we need, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and boron. Bob paints a beautiful picture when he describes the cycle of keeping plants healthy organically. By adding nutrients to the soil, it helps the tree grow strong, which then grows healthy, vitamin rich fruit, and then we benefit from eating the nutritious cherries. “It’s better to get your vitamins through food, “says Bob, “it’s the way it’s suppose to be.” Bob says he farms organically because ‘it’s the right thing to do.’ His delicious cherries are sold locally and are also exported to other countries…” A good cherry is pretty darned good, but to think of a farmer like Bob White out under the moonlight growing them, can only make them sweeter. Photo: Farmer of the Month in May of 2009, Glenn County cherry farmers Bob and Marcia White.
The puzzle of the local food network can be tricky when it comes to producing 4000 lbs (!!) of a particular fruit or vegetable at just the right time for it to have been harvested, cleaned and prepped in time to then get it distributed out to 20 school districts across the North State in its predetermined month. “There is a whole web of people just like us throughout the area to make this project work successfully.” Like raising a child or running a farm, it takes a virtual village to run the Farmer of the Month Program. Photo: Farmer of the Month in 2010, Butte County snap pea growers Patrick and Chue Yang (picture from left to right, Hao, Chue, and Patrick Yang): Yang’s Natural Produce
St. Cin and Sims know well in advance what the Harvest of the Month featured produce will be and once they know, they begin sourcing a grower in our region who can grow and harvest enough of that produce – in March 2011 it was spinach, in April carrots, and in May it will be strawberries. They also begin working on the support materials such as the educational newsletters profiling the farmer and their growing techniques. St. Cin specifically oversees much of the network needed to collect, clean and prepare and then distribute the monthly produce samples out to the schools. “Each of the 35,000 students gets a sample – or taste – of the monthly produce. The teacher might read the farmer’s biography while they are sampling, they might incorporate the nutritional information into another lesson – on history, math, science or language arts. Perhaps this month they’ll read carrot stories, or learn bits of carrot history,” Sims suggests.
As the Farmer of the Month program has grown and evolved – for instance in its development of educational videos including one on the field to fork farm life of North State apples grown by Bryan Howard and another one in the works on carrots – its viability as a full arm of the statewide Harvest of the Month program seems more and more likely. “With all that we have learned about sourcing, distributing and communicating, it would be nice to see the program implemented in other regions of our state – each region has its own rich growing history and culture, and its own lessons to learn from their ‘local’ farmers.” Photo: Farmer of the Month in 2010, Tehama County heirloom tomato growers, James, Kathy, Julia, Jayne, and Jordan Brandt: Julia’s Fruit Stand.
Would you like to be more fully involved in a regional discussion on Farm to School initiatives in the North State? On Friday May 6th, from 1 – 4 pm, the SIERRA CASCADE NETWORK FOR A HEALTHY CALIFORNIA (www.scnutrition.org) will be hosting a sharing forum at the Enloe Hospital Conference Center on the Esplanade in Chico. For more information email Gina Sims at: email@example.com.
Copies of the new Buy Fresh Buy Local: The Eater’s Guide to Local Food, North Valley region, 1st edition are free and available around the area at farmers markets, Chico Natural Foods and S & S Produce. For more information on this advocacy program and this publication, email Noelle Ferdon the Program Coordinator for the Northern California Regional Land Trust: Noelle Ferdon: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, Harvest of the Month (www.harvestofthemonth.com), resources are free and available for anyone to download for use!
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.