In the past few years we have clearly seen more awareness and attention being brought to the plight of many in this country who struggle with having access to good food. The People’s Grocery group in West Oakland, CA is just one of many who are joyfully heeding that call. People’s Grocery’s mission is to improve the health and economy of West Oakland through the local food system. In the nearly ten years of existence they have created the Mobile Market (a traveling produce store) and The Grub Box, a modified CSA in partnership with a local farm run exclusively by people of color. They provide trainings and seminars on food preparation and nutrition and perhaps their biggest project still on the horizon a 15,000 square feet marketplace which will provide even greater access for the people of West Oakland and beyond. I first found out about People’s Grocery and their Growing Justice Institute this past summer when I read this piece… about Executive Director Nikki Henderson and her upcoming course she would co-teach at UC Berkley with author and fellow good food supporter Michael Pollan, I knew at that point I had to know more. When I first approached Ms. Henderson about interviewing her for The Blacker The Berry Food she suggested we do one better and instead feature the individuals who are closet to the cause, her team leaders from the Growing Justice Institute. The Growing Justice wing of People’s Grocery Institute supports Oakland residents with designing and implementing community-driven solutions to food insecurity. So without further ado I bring you part one in a three- part series featuring the three individuals who aren’t just talking the talk but truly walking the walk. I bring you the Growing Justice Institute.
First up is Jacqueline Thomas, described as a force for change in the health, wealth, and mindset of the African American community. She is a farmer, chef and community organizer who is piloting a farm-to-table urban agriculture and cooking program in West Oakland. She is using her skills as an organizer, cook and wellness educator to move West Oaklander’s to healthy, delicious food from their soil to their table. But let’s hear more about this trailblazer from her own mouth.
TBTB: Tell me about your culinary journey?
Jacqueline: I’m a California Girl. I grew up in Northern California mostly Santa Rosa . I spent a great deal of time at Bodega Bay on the beach, I was an athlete who grew up with an abundance of food surrounding me. There were plum, fig, apple, apricot, pear, and apple trees in our yard, blackberries too. My parents were big foodies my dad was a chef and my mom was a farmer/gardener and both were avid fishermen. My brothers and I worked on the farms in the summers and were trained in the kitchen by my mom and dad. We sometimes didn’t have riches in the monetary sense we did have a wealth of food and food variety. My whole family loves cooking,we all want a family restaurant and we all think we can out cook each other. We’re planning a family reunion with an “Iron Chef” competition included just to establish I am the best!
TBTB: What is your first great food memory?
Jacqueline: I think I was about 5 and my great grandmother gave me a plain baked yam with a little bit of butter and it was so delicious, sweet; no sugar needed. Then when I was 8 my sister’s mother in law gave me a small bowl of gumbo. The roux seemed almost clear but spice infused and it had okra. It was the most fabulous thing I had ever eaten. I savored every morsel and I didn’t even get any crab!! That was my first insight into Creole Cooking.
TBTB: What or who inspires you most in the kitchen?
Jacqueline: People to feed and fresh organic ingredients
TBTB: Favorite Ingredient?
Jacqueline: Portabella mushrooms
TBTB: Favorite kitchen tools
Jacqueline: A good set of sharp knives and a powerful blender
TBTB: I’m a firm believer in the art of the Sunday Dinner, which is a common practice throughout many African-American homes. Every Sunday after church I sit down with my parents, husband, kids, and countless other relatives to what is arguably the best meal of the week. What do you do for Sunday Dinner, and can you share a recipe that would be appropriate for my next Sunday Dinner?
Jacqueline: My quick cooking Kale and Collards without a doubt (see recipe below)
TBTB: Best piece of advice you can offer to the next generation of Food Professionals (Chefs/Writers/Restaurant Owners, etc.) who are aspiring to enter the Food Business?
Jacqueline: Be of good cheer and don’t be faint of heart. Many will try to discourage you and few will stand with you; but you only need one (1) the one higher power, your belief, faith and fortitude. As you walk forth in positivity and confidence all that you need will come to you including your support system. Make sure your plan is professional and tight. Any thing you don’t know “research”. Keep it moving!
Jacqueline’s Quick Cooking Kale & Collards
1 large bunch of collards, washed and chopped (stems removed)
1 large bunch of kale, washed and chopped
2 large white onions, chopped
meat and skin from 2 smoked turkey legs and 2 smoked turkey wings
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, deveined and cut into quarter pieces
1/4 habanero pepper
salt and pepper
2 -3 cloves garlic, minced
Remove meat and skin from the smoked turkey and saute in olive oil with the onions, a little onion powder and salt. Cook until the onions start to caramelize, add minced garlic, 1/2 of jalapenos saute a few minutes more. Add water, enough to cover the entire onion mixture by about an inch and simmer until roux is deep and flavorful. Add chopped greens, the rest of the jalapenos, habanero pepper, more onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 30-45 minutes. Do Not Cook All Day. Retain your minerals & vitamins!
Thank you so much to Jacqueline for sharing her story with us and this delicious recipe. Check back next week for part two of our People’s Grocery series featuring Growing Justice member and longtime Oakland organizer Paula Beal.