This week, I was able to take a long stroll over to the East Bay and visit the Emeryville facilities of the Bread Project, one of the non-profits I met at the TASTY Awards launch party on July 17.
Executive Director John Lee greeted me warmly, and handed me a hair net before we walked into the food prep part of the facility. So what is this place, and why does it deserve any attention? In short, the Bread Project offers job training–free of charge–in the areas of baked goods manufacturing and food service to Bay Area residents with low income. It attracts participants of all backgrounds. Many of these trainees have been incarcerated in the past, have suffered from substance abuse, are single parents, or have not completed their high school education. However, from watching the approximately 20 participants at their stations making croissants, sourdough bread baguettes, and tarts, I could only see one thing–purpose. No matter what background these particular participants had, they were all busily cranking machines, shaping dough, or tending to ovens. They walked with purpose and assurance.
John explained that the Bread Project has been able to thrive, especially through the current economic environment, in part through the partnerships with some local heavy-hitting companies like Wells Fargo, Semifreddi’s Bakery, and Chevron. However, John went on to say that ideally, the Bread Project would be self-sufficient, and manage to develop a client list long and regular enough to function independently of donations.
The enormous warehouse-like space in Emeryville can attest to the Bread Project’s growth. In the past two years, their budget and training capacity have increased by 70%–yes, during the economic downturn. Last year, they moved into this 8,000 square foot facility in Emeryville to accommodate growing demand for their training services. They teach over 100 participants per year (nearly 200 last year), showing them how industrial-level kitchen machinery works, sanitation, nutrition, how to scale recipes, how to develop a sizable repertoire of baked goods, and what it takes to keep the Bread Project’s Berkeley cafe going. There is a staff of twelve. Another facility is located in Berkeley.
This program is about more than just baking, though. There are many life skills that need to be taught if these participants are going to succeed in finding and keeping a job, and the Bread Project offers some of them. Fifteen percent of participants’ program time is devoted to developing practical skills like:
*how to write a resume
*how to handle job interviews
*how to use a bank account (taught by Wells Fargo)
*how to dress for an interview (in partnership with Wardrobe for Opportunity)
*how to maintain a bicycle (To ensure participants have a means to get to work, Cycles of Change offers Oakland residents free bicycles.)
In the kitchen, participants learn accountability and the consequences of making product that is not up to par (customers will come back and tell them that they mixed up the sugar and salt!!), math skills as they scale recipes, and discipline. The students work together to create their product–the classes are always mixed with one group of more senior participants and a group of junior ones. This allows for a transfer of knowledge, communication between the groups, and a forum for conflict resolution.
I was especially curious to know what the participant experience was like. John explained that the application process is pretty open, and that the participants just self-select. Administrators have pretty good idea of will commit to the full twelve weeks after two weeks of class. Courses are taught five days a week, six hours each time. Participants begin with afternoon courses. Here, they learn the baking basics–how to make cookies, quick breads, muffins, scones, how to work equipment, how to scale recipes. As they progress, their class moves to the morning, from 6am-12pm. They learn more advanced recipes, such as yeasted breads. They get their feet wet, since they have to fill orders for their clients, such as Project Open Hand, the La Cheim School, and the Berkeley Unified School District. They will begin supplying the Oakland Unified School District beginning in September.
After completion of the program, partipants receive continued support for one year to aid their job search and transition to the work force.
As I was about to leave, John suddenly stated that they had prepared a box of goodies for me–yes, a box of cookies, all for meeee!! There were chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles (my favorite!), and dark chocolate cookies for me to taste the fruits of these participants’ labors myself. How could I say no?
For those who are located in the Bay Area, I think it is worth it to check out the Bread Project’s offerings. In addition to operating a cafe, they sell at local farmers markets, and offer catering services. The cafe is open from Monday-Friday, 8:30am-3pm, at the Berkeley Adult School; 1701 San Pablo Avenue; Berkeley, CA.
Supporting local business, and those with big dreams and small means? Sounds pretty delicious to me.