A network of food and gardening projects
eases hunger in Hayward
By Rachel Trachten | Photography by Scott Peterson
Forty years ago, Marcy Timberman became inspired to cook while reading the mystery novels of Georges Simenon. In these tales, the protagonist, French detective Jules Maigret, often lunches at home with his wife. Madame Maigret’s dishes sounded so delicious to Timberman and her former husband that the couple decided to try their hands at reproducing them, gaining 25 pounds each in the process.
Today, Timberman brings her formidable cooking skills and determination to South Hayward Parish’s modest kitchen, where she and co-instructor Armand Harris volunteer their time teaching community cooking and preserving classes for food pantry clients. As the sweet scent of blackberries permeates the air, Timberman addresses the small group in nearly fluent Spanish, explaining that the simmering berries need continual stirring. In response, the women line up to take turns at the stovetop.
Today’s Jam Fest is one class in a series. It’s also one piece of a larger mix of food and gardening activities focused toward ending hunger in Hayward.
Mom Was a Terrible Cook
Earlier in the class, Timberman and Harris describe their cooking backgrounds. Harris learned from family members, including his father, a professional chef for the Oakland Naval Hospital, and was cooking by age 3. He now goes out of his way to encourage young chefs and at today’s class reaches out to two shy young girls who have accompanied their mother. “When you cook good food, you make a lot of friends,” he tells them. Timberman chimes in that her mom was a terrible cook, so at age 8, young Marcy decided to prepare the family dinner one night. She made a huge mess in the kitchen, but kept on cooking.
Timberman and Harris are active members of the Food Access Committee, which falls under the umbrella of the Task Force to End Hunger and Homelessness in Hayward. While working on community volunteer projects in 2013, the two formed the idea of teaching together as a team: They got their California Food Handler Cards together, and launched the twice-monthly parish classes last March.
About eight to ten people (mostly women) generally attend, but today’s class overflows the small kitchen with a mix of food pantry clients, college students, politicians, and locals involved with the Task Force or community garden. A group gathers in the adjoining room, where people can peer in through the kitchen’s pass-through window. Almost everyone seems to know everyone else.
Harris explains the goal: helping food pantry clients learn to use their food supplies better and introducing unfamiliar foods they may be hesitant to use. Timberman emphasizes hand washing and explains some basics of food preservation, using Spanish, English, and hand gestures.
Timberman describes how the Food Access Committee seeks “action and concrete projects,” such as the cooking classes. When last year’s survey of 100 food pantry clients revealed various barriers to accessing good food, the committee created an informational chart showing each Hayward-area food pantry and when it’s open each week. They accomplished these tasks with strategic support and advice from Audrey Lieberworth, food policy coordinator at Mandela Marketplace, who is also in attendance at the Jam Fest. Mandela Marketplace serves as fiscal sponsor for the Task Force, and a grant from Kaiser Permanente partially covers food costs for the class.
Keen to Glean
Back in the kitchen, we learn that the blackberries headed for the jam pot were gleaned from the Hayward Community Gardens, a 5.3-acre area currently being reconfigured as the Hayward Neighborhood Gardens. Sandy Frost, who is at the Jam Fest to offer her support, arranged for the berry donation. Frost co-chairs the Food Access Committee (along with Timberman and Malachi Onditi) and is also a member of the Ashland Cherryland Food Policy Council. A trained organic farmer, she has been active with the community garden for 15 years and is setting up a gleaning program in Hayward. She says the project is almost ready to launch, and the committee is also close to securing a refrigerated truck for cool storage. In the meantime, volunteers pick up donations of produce from local farmers to distribute to people in need. If there is some that is no longer edible, it gets sent off to enrich compost or worm piles.
Frost has a clear vision. “Once we get a routine going with neighborhood collection from private homeowners, street trees, and backyard trees, we can branch out to local urban farms and harvest produce that isn’t marketable.” Another piece of her plan is a farm stand offering produce from the Neighborhood Gardens at low or no cost to the local Jackson Triangle community, which Frost says is recognized as under-resourced and underserved. “The need is right there at our back door.”
Timberman explains the strategy of gleaning to her students, pointing out how the blackberries and many other gleaned ingredients were preserved in jars lined up on the kitchen counter: “Night of a Thousand Dances Fig Jam,” “Gaia Jamba Maya Chutney,” “Apricot Alchemy,” and “Neighborly Marmalade.”
Passion & Purpose
The Jam Fest wraps up with contented munching of homemade biscuits covered in blackberry jam. Many participants then make their way down the hall to the parish food pantry to pick up some extra groceries. Because they’ve taken the class, they get a jar of jam to take home and a pass to the front of the food pantry line.
Meanwhile, Timberman continues cooking down blackberries to put into jars. She greets Sara Lamnin, a member of the Hayward City Council who chairs the Task Force to End Hunger and Homelessness. Lamnin explains that the task force is focused on finding ways to better use resources. “If we continue to operate in silos,” she says, “there will never be enough money, and we’re all competing with each other.” Today’s event is a perfect illustration of not operating in silos: Instead, an interconnecting and supportive network of volunteers, students, and politicians, as well as nonprofit, parish, and community groups collaborates to alleviate hunger.
In the kitchen, Timberman is joined by three Chabot College students eager to learn about jam making. The young men are involved in two unusual student groups: RAGE (Revolutionaries Advocating for Greener Ecosystems) and Passion & Purpose, a one-unit, student-led class in which participants help one another to achieve a chosen goal. “You can come up with any initiative you want, and we’ll help you support it in any way we can,” explains sophomore Brian Chua. Passion & Purpose students have already created a thriving community garden on campus, and some members are developing a campus food pantry. With guidance from Frost, Timberman, and others, students are learning from and engaging with local community groups.
Also on the burner for Timberman and Harris is a cookbook project: It will include original recipes based on worldwide cuisines along with stories and folkways about food. Plans are also under way to move their parish classes to the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District’s commercial kitchen space at the Matt Jimenez Community Center. At that site, classes will be geared toward South Hayward residents who rely on the food pantry plus families whose children attend after-school and camp programs at the community center.
Wherever they teach, Timberman and Harris are eager to help their students become skilled and confident cooks. Timberman says she got the idea of working with the food pantry after she and her husband spent a month eating on $4 each per day. “I’ve done a lot of high-end cooking,” she says, “but I decided I’d rather turn my attention to using simple ingredients and making things really delicious so it was much more accessible to people who don’t have a lot of money to spend.”
Learn more on Facebook by searching “Task Force to End Hunger and Homelessness in Hayward” and “Hayward Neighborhood Gardens.”