Farm to Food Pantry

The sights and sounds of rare animals — from babydoll sheep to heritage turkeys — fill the Sugarman family’s backyard farm in Olivenhain. Yet citrus trees, while less attention grabbing, were the focus there on a picturesque Feb. 24 afternoon.

Roughly 30 volunteers harvested kumquats, navel oranges and more from 60 trees at Sugar Sweet Farm — all for a good cause. The yield went to St. Andrew’s Church food pantry, which hosts a weekly meal with fresh produce, meat and more for those in need from 3-4 p.m. every Thursday, 890 Balour Drive in Encinitas.

Mom Elizabeth Sugarman said she was inspired to host the event after learning more about Anne Heyligers, who heads the food pantry. Both women will be included in the nonprofit Story Art’s “Hidden Treasures,” a soon-to-be completed exhibit that features unsung leaders in Encinitas.

The community harvest at Sugar Sweet Farm also doubled as a chance for people to meet the farm’s new baby goats and lambs. One baby lamb in particular has special significance to the Sugarmans, since she was born at the same time a family aunt passed away.

“It’s sort of circle of life,” Sugarman said. “That happened along with learning more about the food pantry, and at the same time, I just felt so blessed that we get to do all these things on the farm. We wanted people to have a little taste of that.”

She said Sugar Sweet Farm has donated produce to food banks through the local 4-H Club, but it could potentially hold more harvests directly benefiting St. Andrew’s pantry down the line.

Heyligers, who was picking produce at the event, said the food pantry is always looking for more produce, so the event was greatly appreciated. Currently, many of its fruits and vegetables come from the San Diego Food Book and the Leichtag Foundation property, with the supermarket Gelson’s soon due to provide a sizable chunk, according to Heyligers.

“Sometimes at the food bank there’s a lot to draw on, but sometimes like today it was just carrots, potatoes and I think that’s it,” Heyligers said. “So we really appreciate this.”

The pantry program feeds 65 to 90 families weekly. Heyligers said in recent years it has focused on providing fresh food, instead of packaged or canned goods.

“This is right in line with our mission,” she said.

Elizabeth and Shawn Sugarman, along with their two kids Samuel and Sissy, are known among agriculture enthusiasts for raising rare and endangered livestock such as heritage turkeys on their 2.5-acre property. Sometimes, the Sugarmans host events so the community can interact with the animals.

“It’s hard to be connected and realize where our food comes from,” said Sissy Sugarman, 14.

She added: “It’s important to teach kids when they’re young that meat doesn’t grow on a tree and that there’s a sacrifice involved, so we have to respect those animals.”

Lois Sunrich, founding director of Story Arts, was among those at the event. She said the “Hidden Treasures” project will chart Elizabeth Sugarman’s journey from growing up without farming experience to running Sugar Sweet Farm.

“The family is doing a lot for the community,” Sunrich said.

To inquire about reserving a farm tour or having a birthday party there, visit www.sugarsweetfarm.com. For more information about helping the food pantry, go to www.standrewsepiscopal.org.

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