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 is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to stay “dedicated to creating a strategic infrastructure that will offer sustainable solutions to local homelessness, while supporting (Nevada County’s)farmers, economy, and community.” They are just one of the many useful food organizations in Nevada County who are dedicated to feeding the hungry in our community. But they are doing it in a new and innovative way. 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.
Every Thursday, Sierra Roots serves an organic meal to the public, with the help of the Gold Country Gleaners and our local farmers and gardeners. Usually, there are about 40 people who receive food, including a handful of small children. For many in attendance, this offering is the only organic meal available to eat all week. For some, it is the only meal that includes fresh, raw, organic fruits and vegetables that they will eat for an entire month.
“This meal rocks,” a food recipient named Rick 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.
"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."
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.
Bill Kerr, a board member for Sierra Roots, came to a recent 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 www.sierraroots.org.
Hilary Hodge is a freelance writer living in Nevada County. She has written for EatDrinkBetter.comand for Mother Earth News Magazine.