Walking into the Farming Hope space on Fell Street, where Gabriela Cámara’s Cala once took up residence, is like walking into a verdant dinner party. The organization recently hosted its third chef-led dinner, an event that connects high-end cuisine to its mission of combatting San Francisco’s issues surrounding food access. Andie Sobrepeña, the co-executive director of Farming Hope, started the dinner on November 5 by reminding guests that everything they’d eat on their six-course menu is root to stem. “This is about what we can do in our own homes to reduce waste,” Sobrepeña says. “We really believe we can change these statistics together.”
Farming Hope employs formerly incarcerated individuals to serve food at Manny’s on 16th street and grow food at its community garden on Eddy and Divisadero Streets, and provides a variety of other programs addressing San Francisco’s financially vulnerable as well. In December 2020, the nonprofit formally took over the former Cala space; this location also serves as a hub for grocery pickups that allow housing- and food-insecure families to get fresh produce. Farming Hope’s culinary director Phil Saneski says the chef-led dinners are key to supporting the nonprofit’s mission by raising attention and money for its broader programming. “It’s a great community space,” Saneski says. “We get new apprentices from case workers every six weeks, so for us to do a robust meal program we needed a bigger space.”
On Wednesday nights the nonprofit also serves three-course meals for under-resourced families in San Francisco — an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert — so they can have a full start-to-finish meal experience that they may not have access to otherwise. “We believe every San Franciscan should experience a fine dining atmosphere,” Saneski says.
The menu for the November 5 dinner, led by Saneski, included upcycled and vegetarian dishes like cacio e pepe with parmesan rind-based broth and dehydrated fruit loops, a cauliflower “ribs” plate complete with pickles, a cauliflower creme brulee, and a vegan caesar salad with grilled turnips. Even the breadsticks were made with once-discarded pecan shells. “Every course highlights things you’d see at home,” Saneski says. “And how to reduce food waste at home.” The two preceding dinners featured the team from Good Good Culture Club in April and chef David Thu on September 12. Next month, the chefs from Flour + Water will dish up a menu.
Saneski says the idea with the Cala space is to present good food as a pathway to raising funds for and centering attention on the nonprofit’s core programming and the individuals who power it. One of the servers at the dinner, for example, is a graduate of Farming Hope’s programs and is now a manager at a Square Pie Guys location in the city. Since January 2022, the nonprofit has served 98,265 free meals to those in need. Down the road, Saneski says he’d love to have celebrity chefs like Thomas Keller, Dominique Crenn, or Mourad Lahlou come in; he’s talking to Absinthe's former owner Bill Corbett to come in for a dinner soon. Alice Waters and Michael Tusk have come by to see the space already.
Essentially, it’s a sandbox moment for the organization — and a time of growth. Last year, Farming Hope hosted 19 apprentices to complete their program, but this year they were up to 30. “We’re open to any chefs,” Saneski says. “We want to honor this space by taking Cala’s original second-chance hiring even further.”