Developing a Healthy Food Hub in the Lyon County region, 2010 to 2017
Northwestern Nevada– Although Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties began in 2001 with a focus on substance abuse prevention and community asset building, in 2010 we also began strategically working toward improving our area’s food system with funding help from USDA NIFA grants, and later USDA Farm to School grants. We began developing a “healthy food hub” by helping to connect local, state, federal, and tribal groups, farmers, businesses, and community volunteers who also want an affordable, accessible and fair food system that will have a soaring affect on our region and its food system.
Why? Because moving from the food system we have now to a food system rooted in health, equitable access to good nutrition, economic vitality and sustainability is not something one farm, one agency, one school, one citizen, or one politician or government can do alone. We all need to work together to succeed.
Collaborative Impact Model: Working together, area farmers, Lyon School District, USDA, state agencies, nonprofits, universities, clubs, local businesses, community volunteers, etc. have been working with communities to strengthen our local and regional food systems and to create additional economic opportunities for farmers and food entrepreneurs, expanding access to healthy food for everyone, and meeting growing customer demand for local food.
Will Kids Really Eat Kale?
As we rolled up our sleeves and began to work in earnest on creating a “healthy food hub” in 2010, we met with key leaders in the school system, including the school lunch program director. She patiently listened to our ideas about incorporating more vegetables and fruits (especially fresh, locally grown ones) into the school district’s meals, and then explained that this would only be worthwhile if students would actually select and eat more vegetables and fruits. We took that insight to heart, and looked at the latest research on how to get children to give vegetables and fruits a chance. The research said if kids help create and maintain gardens and hoop houses, and participate in hands-on learning in their school and community gardens, and in cooking lessons using what they grow, they’re likely to eat the vegetables and fruits they see on their school lunch trays and at home too. What’s more, they’re likely to ASK for vegetables and fruits at home- we’ve even heard success stories about students asking their parents for permission to start their own home gardens.
As you can see from our 2012 school garden video, that research paid off! Kids really will eat kale (and chard, radishes, garlic, tomatillos, squash…)
See our short film on You Tube here: https://youtu.be/elIQp3HIc6c
HCC’s school garden liaisons staff and teen garden interns helped connect teachers, students, parents, farmers, local businesses and volunteers from Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, etc and together, they built hoop houses and developed school gardens, composting and vermiculture projects, garden clubs, and cooking classes using school garden produce. And later with a Farm to School grant, salad bars including produce sourced from local farms and school gardens were implemented across the Lyon County School District, which has welcomed and supported Healthy Food Hub and Farm to School strategies every step of the way.
The Coalition supports a Healthy Food Hub With Multiple Approaches:
8 school gardens and hoop houses (6 are certified gardens under NDA). These are at Silver Stage Elementary (Silver Springs), Silverland Intermediate (Fernley), Fernley Elementary School, Dayton Elementary, Dayton Intermediate, Riverview and Sutro elementary schools (Dayton). HCC also subgranted initial funding of $5,000 for the UNCE school garden at Yerington Elementary several years ago. During the school year, students help maintain the gardens, and during the summer, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girls Scouts, JPO youth, our interns, community volunteers and others help. Teachers use the gardens as living classrooms, emphasizing S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts, and also using the produce for hands-on lessons through seed saving, cooking in the classroom, etc.
Teen Garden Interns and Gardening Electives: HCC funds and trains teen garden interns who receive stipends in multiple areas. We also teach teen interns how to run our farmers markets through our Comstock Youth Works and other programs. Youth interns have been funded in Dayton, VC, Smith Valley and Silver Springs. In 2016, one of our interns, Caleb Holley, was chosen from a 5 county region for a an NNDA Pioneer Award based on his development of a garden club elective class at Sutro Elementary in Dayton.
Training: HCC sponsors ongoing training in Lyon communities by experts on high desert organic gardening, canning and food preservation, cooking for both youth and adults in community and school settings. HCC sponsors monthly cooking classes with an emphasis on USDA commodities paired with seasonal, available vegetables and recipe cards with nutrition info. All at no cost.
There are now salad bars throughout the Lyon County School District, which now allows purchase of school garden produce for lunchroom salad bars. These changes were brought about in part through HCC’s Farm to School funding and strategies.
Family Style Dining: HCC is partnering with the SSES GREEN Team and school staff to introduce Family Style Dining at Silver Stage Middle School in 2017, with handmade table cloths, flower centerpieces, and teachers sitting with students and initiating conversations at each table (enhancing social/emotional learning).
Community Gardens: HCC sponsors community gardens at the Silver Stage Food Pantry in Silver Springs (also NDA certified). HCC previously sponsored the community gardens at the Dayton Community Center, and on River Road in Dayton (with Hungry Mother Organics), and helped fund the development of a hoop house and community garden in Hawthorne Nevada (with Mineral County Economic Development). HCC also kickstarted the thriving community garden in Silver City, now in its 9th season , with funding and labor.
Food Summits: HCC has sponsored and helped organize regional Food System Summits focusing on strengthening collaboration through multi-sector partnerships among farmers, USDA, FBNN, UNCE, food businesses, schools, Tribal Nations, etc at the Governor’s Mansion, and at Silver Stage High with local, state, and nationally known speakers such as Nevada First Lady Kathleen Sandoval, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Fred Steinmann from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, area farmers such as Rick Lattin, Wendy Baroli and Mark O’Farrel, the student GREEN Team of SSES, Smith Valley ag teacher Andy Miller and students, Lyon School Superintendent Keith Savage, Kristi Jamason of Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Joyce Buckingham, Director of Ron Wood Family Resource Center, etc.
Statewide Conferences: HCC has co-sponsored annual THRIVE conferences in Lyon County, celebrating accomplishments by students and teachers in school food projects (GREEN Team) and other regional collaborative successes.
HCC’s farmers markets have no booth fees for farmers, donation accepted. The markets exist in Dayton, Silver Springs, and Virginia City (hosted by Community Chest). HCC assists farmers in signing up for WIC and USDA Senior Coupons. Markets accept EBT, USDA Coupons and WIC in Silver Springs (Jackrabbit Junction). School garden produce is also sold at markets for sustainability. Our year round indoor farmers market, Jackrabbit Junction, was created to encourage food pantry clients to use EBT and WIC benefits at adjacent Jack Rabbit Farm Stand to purchase fresh produce while supporting local farmers.
Cottage Food Businesses and the “Pickles and Salsa” Law: Did you know that Nevada has a Cottage Food Law and a “Pickles and Salsa” law? Both were created to boost economic development opportunities, and both got started right here in rural Lyon County. Silver Springs residents came to Healthy Communities meetings, saying they wanted legislation that would allow them to create micro-businesses to sell their home-produced foods like breads, jams, pickles and salsa at area farmer’s markets, and so the Cottage Food law, and later the ‘Pickles and Salsa’ bills were introduced. With advocacy by everyday folks, farmers, small business owners throughout the state, nonprofits like HCC, and many groups, both bills passed. The result is that hundreds of new micro-businesses have popped up, farmers have new value-added products, and many existing businesses throughout Nevada were able to expand.
HCC has 3 “volunteer-powered” food pantries (Yerington, Dayton, Silver Springs) – we emphasize educating clients on importance of nutritional choices, and school garden produce not sold at farmers market is donated to our pantries.
Food Backpacks: HCC sponsors the packaging and delivery of hundreds of weekend food backpacks for students in Dayton and Silver Springs schools via our food pantries. For instance, currently, Dayton schools receive 140 backpacks each Friday.
HCC’s Community Roots is a self-sustaining nonprofit garden center and job skills training site (DETR; Comstock Youth Works) in Dayton. The school garden seedlings sold at Community Roots generate proceeds that all go back to our school garden account to boost their sustainability.
Community Supported Agriculture: HCC developed a CSA program with baskets available through our Community Harvest CSA baskets (SNAP was also accepted as payment, helping to infuse more produce into low income communities and food deserts).
Cross-Sector Memos of Understanding: To accomplish many of the food hub strategies, HCC establishes memos of understanding with local farmers, businesses, schools, Nevada Grown, Carson City Farmers Market, etc. We maintain ongoing outreach to local restaurants, youth agencies (for example, BGC), and local businesses to promote increased use of locally grown produce.
BARO: When the Nevada Department of Agriculture announced its organic certification program would phase out by March of 2015, Nevada farmers decided to form Basin and Range Organics (BARO). It soon materialized as a nonprofit, kickstarted with grant funding through HCC, and temporarily housed under HCC. Nevada farmers, such as Marcia Litsinger of Stagecoach and Rob Holley of Dayton, both on the advisory board for Basin and Range, consistently helped with HCC initiated school gardens, composts and hoop houses and helped the students understand where their food comes from. HCC’s help with BARO was a “small way that we could help out,” explained HCC’s previous director, Christy McGill, who wrote a successful federal grant application for BARO. More: https://basinandrangeorganics.org/
Speakers on Nutrition and Health, School Gardens, Food Security, Food Systems, etc.
HCC staff have been selected as speakers at the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s School Garden conferences; at WNC’s Small Farm conferences; at the annual rural economic development conferences at UNR; at the annual THRIVE Conference; at Food System Summits at the Governor’s Mansion and SSHS; at the Nevada State Health Division’s 2012 conference at University Nevada Las Vegas “Making a Difference in Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion”; at the USDA’s 2011 national “Community Foods Projects” conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and many other events and conferences.
Garden and Agriculture Awards
HCC’s school garden liaison Caleb Holley was selected from a 5 county region for Northern Nevada Development Authority’s (NNDA) 2016 Silver State Award as “Most Outstanding Student” based on his development of a school garden elective class and club at Sutro Elementary school where students learn about organic gardening and hoop house agriculture.
BARO won the 2016 NNDA Kit Carson Award, and they were recognized as “Entrepreneurs of the Year”, selected from a 5 county region. Basin and Range Organics obtained the credentials to begin certifying organic producers and handlers after the State program ended. Basin and Range Organics provides a Nevada based organics certification that reduces costs incurred from out-of-state certifiers and inspectors.
HCC received a NDA School Garden award (the Golden Potato!)
In 2013, Wendy Madson was named Dayton’s “Agriculture Leader of the Year” by the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Appeal for her work with HCC expanding opportunities for both youth and adults to find training and/or work using sustainable agriculture/gardening practices and for her work connecting schools, farmers, other nonprofits, USDA, etc. to fund, implement, maintain and expand school and community gardens and hoop houses in the region.
HCC earned 2017 scholarships to Edible School Yard in Berkeley with training for SSES teacher Rachel Leach, farmers Marcia and Steve Litsinger, and HCC staff Alex Ferguson and Wendy Madson. GREEN Team students from SSES also earned 2017 summer scholarships to training at Urban Roots in Reno.
HCC’s Silver Stage Food Pantry director Kathy McIntosh was awarded a 2016 NNDA Silver Spur Award, and recognized as Employee of the Year after being selected from a 5 county region. Kathy also won a Governor’s statewide Points of Light Award in 2016 for her stellar work with volunteers at the Pantry.
HCC has been the focus of multiple features in Rural Connections (a publication covering the Western U.S.); Edible Reno-Tahoe; NDA School Garden newsletters; and national USDA publications.
Healthy Food Hub Goals
A few of the Coalition goals for the healthy food hub include: 1) increasing linkages among local food access/security stakeholders and regional and state planning efforts that have the potential to impact regional food systems to more equitably reflect the needs of low income individuals and communities and 2) working to assure that food security /access policy issues for low income individuals and communities are recognized as a critical component of existing and new regional strategies, blueprints and state planning initiatives; and 3) encouraging open communication among key decision makers, stakeholders and the general public on these issues.