A flat of mushrooms, bags of fresh cranberries, plantains and dragon fruit are just a few things a foodie might pick up on a shopping trip to the grocery store. These are some of the produce items found at one time or another at any one of the community food banks in Plumas County.
While this assortment might prove interesting they’re hardly what someone in need might want or know how to prepare for a family meal.
Getting fresh, local produce to food pantries in Portola, Quincy, Greenville and Chester and people in need is a goal of Roger Diefendorf, executive director of the Lassen, Plumas, Sierra Community Action Agency.
Public schools could also benefit if Diefendorf’s vision comes true.
Diefendorf, who heads the Plumas County Development Commission (CDC), explained the new program to members of the CDC Board of Directors on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The meeting was held just prior to directors reconvening as the Plumas County Board of Supervisors. The Community Action Agency is just one of the programs under the CDC umbrella of operations.
A one-year Feather River College farm certificate program aims to change what’s available, not only at local food pantries, but to public schools. This class is the result of a new partnership between the college and Community Action Agency.
A new Ecological Farming project just started classes with 13 students, said Darla DeRuiter, professor of Environmental Studies and Outdoor Recreation Leadership at Feather River College. DeRuiter is instrumental in early stages of the partnership with Diefendorf’s program. Jessie Mazar is the instructor taking over the actual program.
Eco farming could be the foundation where food and job training come together on a permanent basis if Diefendorf’s vision comes about. Taking individuals who are in poverty, providing them with practical skills and education, and moving them out of poverty is an important focus of the new program, he explained.
With major changes and expectations within the state and federal government when it comes to community action agencies, Diefendorf said he knew he needed to do something that was meaningful.
With approximately $35,000 in local funding, he said he knew they could no longer just give the money away to agencies and groups meeting specified criteria. It was no longer acceptable just to be the pass through agency. That had worked in the past, but this year he needed to do something that showed he was taking the funding and actually going out and doing something with it.
Looking around for something meaningful and self-sustaining, he said that growing fresh produce could be the answer. Adding job skills and the knowledge of local growing conditions to that effort could help.
“Most of the local food banks don’t have much in the way of fresh produce,” Diefendorf said. What they receive tends to arrive in large amounts and what they can’t give away immediately goes to waste. There’s too much lettuce, or huge bags of onions, but little in the way of consistent amounts of a variety of produce.
In short, what could be raised locally could be given to food banks throughout the county to help those in need.
To help keep the program sustainable, Diefendorf said the public schools could purchase part of what is raised, and they’re interested, he added.
Plumas Unified School District feeds an estimated 1,200 people a day, throughout the school year, Diefendorf learned in talks with district leaders. The school district purchases produce but not from local sources, he said. Therefore, the eco farming program wouldn’t compete with local businesses, Diefendorf emphasized.
Where to grow
Currently the program is using Follow Your Heart Farm near Quincy. As Diefendorf discussed the new partnership with commissioners, more land is being offered.
John Sturley has approximately 4 acres of prime meadowland with a water source, Diefendorf told the board. The site is just off Bucks Lake Road near Quincy and is part of what Diefendorf estimates as a 10-acre spread.
Diefendorf said that Sturley is looking for someone to work part of his land. Last year a man grew commercial strawberries at the site, but ill health prevented that grower from continuing.
Diefendorf said that Sturley even has an old tractor that would be available. “This has really given us the opportunity to make this program grow and become sustainable,” he said.
DeRuiter said she’s pleased with the arrangement with the owners of Follow Your Heart Farm. DeRuiter was not at the meeting with Diefendorf and commissioners, but she said she was meeting with Diefendorf to learn more about the new site.
The land Diefendorf is interested in needs fencing to protect crops from deer, he told the board. There’s also a well that the family also uses. As Diefendorf plans ahead, he can see them building an elevated water tank that will help ensure that both the family and crops have enough water.
As part of a similar farming program offered at Butte College, Diefendorf is interested in having a Plumas County program where an irrigation system might work. The Butte County program is solar irrigated and drip-fed, he added.
Diefendorf has an estimated amount of water crops could use — 2,500 to 4,000 gallons a day. By implementing the raised water tank, he estimates the height would result in enough PSI (pounds per square inch) to fill the tank during times the family didn’t use water. By raising the tank 10-feet, he said that would give them 1 PSI per foot.
At this point Commissioner Lori Simpson reminded Diefendorf that ground water use in the area is also in competition with the college. She said the college drilled more wells for the expanded agriculture program’s needs. Neighbors in the area are already concerned about water availability because of FRC’s additional needs. “Yours is probably not going to be compared to theirs,” she added about the new water use idea.
Diefendorf told commissioners that he was recently discussing his new program with one of Lassen County’s supervisors. He learned that Lassen College has implemented a similar farming program.
The question of using some of FRC’s relatively new property for farming rather than only ranching needs also came up.
FRC has a greenhouse and the fish hatchery program has an aquiculture component (growing crops on water), a small farm on site might be part of a future program. “FRC has so much land,” Simpson said. But now it’s all dedicated to livestock, she added.
Diefendorf said he understands that FRC President Kevin Trutna is in favor of the partnership at this time.