Tips for ripening produce and keeping it fresh

Just as people breathe, produce respires. It takes in oxygen and produces carbon dioxide. This process, called oxidation, is responsible for the breakdown (spoilage) of fruits and vegetables after harvest. You can’t stop this natural process, but you can learn … Continue reading

Want GMOs labeled? Contact Congress today to stop

Note: The legislation discussed in the article below may move through Congress quickly, so we urge you to take action as soon as possible. For the latest news on the bill’s progress, go to If you would like see GMO foods … Continue reading

Sierra Harvest gives salad bar to Grizzly Hill School

by Erika Kosina

Things have always been a bit different up on the Ridge, and Grizzly Hill Elementary School in the Twin Ridges School District in North San Juan is no exception. With only about 100 students, it’s easier for the school to experiment with new ways of doing things, and Grizzly Hill is doing just that with its school meal program.

First of all, the school provides a free breakfast and lunch to all of its students — a much-needed supplement for its students, since over 90 percent of them qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Just because these meals are free, though, doesn’t mean they are low quality. All of the meals and beverages meet state and federal requirements, based on USDA dietary guidelines. Even better, Grizzly Hill’s food service program uses as much organic and local produce as they can afford, supplementing the cost of food with community fundraisers. The community is extremely supportive of the school’s meal program. The shift to organic and local started when a few passionate parents not only wanted to see better quality food in the school’s meals, but also took the initiative to figure out how to pay for it.

saladbar_GrizzlyHillUSEWith a little help from Sierra Harvest, who donated a salad bar to the school earlier this year, Grizzly Hill is making even more changes to their meal program. The salad bar is stocked with an abundance of salad fixings three to four days a week, and the kids and staff (and parents) are “eating it up.”

Kids can choose from 16 different ingredients to accompany a green lettuce mix: tomatoes, pepperoncini, baby corn, black olives, red bell peppers, carrots, onions, and hard-boiled eggs are often in the mix. Some of the produce is locally sourced from nearby Mountain Bounty farm, but their favorite produce is about as local as you can get — the school garden! Students are free to “graze” in the garden to supplement their school meals. Grizzly Hill also recently planted an orchard on the school property.

It’s not just the students who are enjoying the salad bar. Paraprofessional Karen Peake, who works at the school, says, “The faculty are totally wild about this.”

Another benefit is a reduction in food waste. Erika Triglia, a Grizzly Hill parent, points out, since the kids “get to pick what they want, they don’t throw it away.”

The salad bar has enabled everyone associated with the school to eat a healthier diet and enjoy those one-and-a-half (for kids aged four to eight) to three (for adults) cups of vegetables the USDA recommends we consume daily. Adds Peake, “The bottom line is that the kids and staff are eating more veggies since we got this salad bar.”

Grizzly Hill isn’t stopping with fresh, organic, local vegetables. They are working with Sierra Harvest to include locally raised, grass-fed beef in the school meal program. Mike Blagg donated a live dairy steer to the school in November, and Charlie Grande is raising it on his ranch in Penn Valley. The only cost the school will need to cover is the processing of the animal in a USDA facility.

This pilot program is bound to get the attention of other schools that are looking for creative ways to get more local food on their school menus. With the generous support of a business sponsorship from BriarPatch Co-op, Sierra Harvest is looking forward to helping these dreams become a reality in Nevada County.

Erika Kosina is the Communications and Events Coordinator for Sierra Harvest, a local non-profit whose mission is to educate, inspire, and connect Nevada County families to fresh, local, seasonal food.

Mood—food connection goes both ways

JulieDeHollanderEver wonder why we often reach for food when we are upset? We know that the foods we eat affect our mood and energy level, and the reverse can also be true: our mood and energy level influence the foods we choose. In fact, research indicates that we tend to reach for crunchy foods when we’re feeling angry, sugary foods when we’re feeling depressed, soft and sweet foods when we’re feeling anxious, and salty foods when we’re feeling stressed.

Carbohydrate-rich foods (grains, fruit, dairy, etc.) increase our level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood and appetite. Foods rich in carbohydrates create a feeling of calmness. High-sugar carbohydrates supply a short burst of serotonin, which can make us feel good for a little while, but can also cause a spike in our blood sugar level, which is then followed by a crash. This can leave us depleted and feed our cravings for more sugar. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes contain fiber that helps keep our blood sugar balanced. Eating a meal rich in complex carbohydrates in the evening can also help to promote relaxation and restful sleep.

Protein foods enhance our energy, concentration and alertness. Foods that are high in protein increase the amino acid tyrosine, a building block for dopamine and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that help the brain to focus. Thus, eating a protein-rich breakfast with a small amount of carbohydrate promotes optimum levels of energy and cognition throughout the day. Examples of healthy proteins include lean meats, eggs, legumes, nuts, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt.

Essential fats play another important role in regulating our mood and brain function, especially the omega-3 fats. Low omega-3 levels have been linked to depression, anxiety, inability to concentrate, mood swings, irritability, low tolerance for frustration, fatigue, and poor sleep in adults; and increased ADHD and other learning disabilities in children. Specifically, low levels of DHA, an omega-3 fat, may negatively affect children’s reading, memory, and behavior. Sources of omega-3 fats include fish (especially cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and pollock), fish oil, flaxseed, algae, and walnuts. It’s good to try to have two to three servings of cold water fish each week, or consider talking to your health care provider about supplementation to ensure you are meeting your needs.

The timing of when we eat also has an impact on how we feel. Keeping our blood sugar balanced throughout the day can help with mood stability and sustained energy. Frequent meals and snacks containing a small amount of carbohydrate and protein at least every four hours during the day can help keep our blood sugar stable. Depending on one’s meal schedule, one may need to add snacks if mealtimes are more than four hours apart. Skipping meals or going too long between meals contributes to blood sugar imbalances and may also increase the risk of mood swings, fatigue, food cravings, and over-eating. A piece of fruit with a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter, Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit, raw nuts with dried fruit, or smoked salmon with crackers are examples of balanced snacks that help us sustain our energy and a positive mood throughout the day.

From the Nevada County Public Health Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Program.

Chefs and students cook up local produce for tastings

By Erika Kosina A grand total of twenty-five local chefs volunteered their time in Nevada County schools for “Tasting Week,” November 3 through 7. These experienced chefs tickled children’s natural curiosity to expand their experience of different foods and flavors, … Continue reading

Powerful winter defenses — beating the bugs, naturally

By James “Slim” Miles Benjamin Franklin really nailed the ideal strategy for avoiding disease when he said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We are now well into that time of year when colds and … Continue reading