NORTH FORK – Hansel Kern has been selected to receive the honor of North Fork’s Citizen of the Year for 2012.
At a dinner at the Town Hall on Saturday, Feb. 2, Hansel Kern, owner and master gardener at the Kern Family Farm, was honored with the distinction for, among other things, his work with the kids at the North Fork Elementary School, developing a school garden, and donating thousands of hours to educating kids about where their food comes from.Thirteen years ago, Hansel started an organic garden behind the primary playground. Every Friday he donates his time developing a great gardening experience for every child at the school.
Each class takes care of its own spring and fall planting under Hansel’s supervision, and the Kern family also provides over $1,200 worth of healthy snacks for the kids at the school each year.
The students not only learn how to plant, tend and grow their own garden, they get to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of their labor. They have also gotten a workout over the years hauling soil and compost to enrich their planting medium.
“The top of that hill was carved off when they built the school, so the soil was just decomposed granite and red clay,” says Hansel. “We have been bringing 2-3 cubic yards of soil and compost from the farm every week, and the kids shovel it into wheelbarrows and have built terraces and garden beds. After many years of struggling with really poor soil, we’re finally getting it developed into something productive.”
The school garden is now producing enough to bring fresh food into the cafeteria, says Hansel. “The fall garden produces tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers – all sorts of good veggies that Noi Whitener incorporates into lunches in the cafeteria.”
Hansel, along with son Aaron and daughter Becky, work their four large production greenhouses of greens and spinach, another one for seedlings, and tend fruit orchards with about 100 trees of all different varieties of fruit. They also raise chickens and goats, all on some 80 acres along Saginaw Creek east of North Fork.
The Kern Family Farm provides fresh, organic produce for local businesses, such as La Cabana and Erna’s Elderberry house. They also manage to find time to sell their produce at the Farmer’s Market at True Value Hardware in Oakhurst on Thursdays during the summer, and at their own setup behind the Mono Museum in North Fork on Fridays. They also run a membership store in North Fork, and are working towards having a storefront in town, providing an outlet for local producers and artisans.
Hansel is quick to thank his wife Sue for driving down the mountain every day to work at her job as a Family Law Facilitator in Fresno, so he can continue to live his passion.
“Sue should have been on the plaque too,” says Hansel. “She’s the one who makes this all happen, who makes it possible. Her work finances the building of the infrastructure, and affords us the time and money to build up the farm.”
Folks around the area may also be familiar with Hansel’s work as a stone mason. Not only has he spent years creating beautiful designs with local stone for fireplace surrounds, mantles, rock walls and sign pedestals, he also rebuilt the chimney at the Ross Cabin, using an old photograph as a guide. He recently constructed the stone steps leading up into the cabin as well.
Hansel’s work is easily recognized, not only for it’s artistry, but for the rock he uses for his projects, mined locally from his quarry near Raymond. It’s not unusual to see a home in the area for sale, with the listing including “beautiful rock work by Hansel Kern.”
Hansel and Aaron, along with all the work on the farm, take on masonry projects from time to time. They have recently accepted a job creating a mosaic, complete with a lake and eagles flying overhead.
If it doesn’t sound like these folks are busy enough, the Kern family has seen to it that government surplus food commodities are distributed to local families. For the past 18 years, they have been doing whatever it takes, at first driving to Madera for pick-up, and now going to the Manna House in Oakhurst to retrieve the commodities.
On the second Saturday of each month, the Kerns distribute surplus food to some 180 families from the facilities at the Grace Community Church in North Fork. Hansel credits Grace Community for their generosity in allowing him to use their premises, as the facility they used to use for distribution began charging them. Since the Kerns donate their time and gas to distribute the food, it just wasn’t feasible to have to pay for a location too, and Hansel is very grateful to the church for sharing their space.
Hansel is also a big advocate of supporting local businesses.
“We believe very strongly in shopping locally, and trying to find what we need from our local businesses and producers,” says Hansel. “Sometimes what we need is not available in our town, and we have to look elsewhere, but we always check out our local merchants first.”
For those looking for local fresh produce, Hansel says that if they don’t have it in their gardens, he can get it for you from their partners at T.D. Willey in Madera. “They’re good folks, and have been our farming mentors.”
When the winner of the 2012 Citizen of the Year was announced, Hansel was presented the award by the evening’s emcee Tom Wheeler. The eight nominees were introduced by last year’s winners Ginny and Vince Smith, who were honored for their work with the North Fork History Group.
Ginny and Vince also orchestrated the preparation of the dinner, assisted by fellow members of the History Group. The North Fork Boosters, who sponsor the event, offered a no-host bar, and raffled off prizes donated by various individuals, businesses and organizations.
This is Hansel’s third nomination for Citizen of the Year. Other residents singled out for the honor were Janet Wheeler, Scott Marsh, Al & Robyn Flory, Roger Robinette, David & Donna Fisher, Mark Logee and Gina Clugston.
Hansel says he is very honored to receive this award, and loves the little town of North Fork. “There’s really a small town atmosphere here, and a sense of family. I love living here.”
One of the honors bestowed upon the new Citizen of the Year, is the opportunity to orchestrate next year’s dinner. Attendees at this year’s celebration are looking forward to heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables from the Kern Family Farm, and Hansel promises not to disappoint.