August 2, 2016 – A sell-out crowd gathered for supper Saturday night at the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, in yet another demonstration of how local chefs sustain the community.
The all-star volunteer chef line-up included Gema Cruz of Gabriella Café, Sarah LaCasse of Earthbound Farm, Brad Briske of La Balena, and Yulanda Santos of Aubergine. California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross was the keynote speaker.
The menu started off with focaccia topped by raspberries and goat cheese and summer squash cakes prepared by Cruz. LaCasse offered a salad of arugula with pickled cucumber, fried zucchini strands and cilantro-mint vinaigrette.
The main course was smoky wild-caught California rock cod cooked over a wood fire on cedar planks, which Briske served accompanied by roasted organic vegetable orzo salad. And for dessert Santos prepared roasted strawberries over chamomile crémeux with licorice mint.
While the food and wine—provided by Burrell School Vineyards—were outstanding, it was also the conversations of those gathered around the tables that made the evening such a memorable experience.
Dedicated community members, proponents of organic agriculture, foodies and local politicians find a common cause in supporting the Homeless Garden Project, headed by Darrie Ganzhorn for the past 26 years. HGP provides job training, transitional employment in the garden and support services to people who are homeless.
“The soil of the garden just oozes with love,” says program graduate Laurie Soderman. Current trainee Kathleen Groves said: “Organic farming 20 hours a week, I felt layer after layer of fear and shame lift away.”
Secretary Ross—who was appointed to the post by Governor Brown in 2011 and previously served as chief of staff for US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack—praised the Homeless Garden Project, saying, “This is a project that needs to be at the top of the list of best management practices, that are being shared around the country.”
“I love this project so much,” she said. “In this state where we grow so much, we should not have any person who is food insecure and we should not have homeless people too.”
“The therapy of planting and nourishing and harvesting is a remarkable community building art,” she added.
“At the end of the day,” she concluded, “when I think about what you’re doing at the Homeless Garden Project, teaching how to manage a life. I think about the many people I know that are just one incident away from homelessness.”
Ross even gave a shout out to EMB, saying: “My husband was reading a copy of Edible Monterey Bay and said ‘Wow! People really like food around here.'”
Yes we do! And if you feel the same, don’t miss the Homeless Garden Project Sustain Supper next summer or any of their wonderful events throughout the year.
For more information on HGP and how you can help, contact: www.homelessgardenproject.org
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.