Full City spotlight: Training for food-service jobs at Google, instead of random bars

SF’s Farming Hope uses corporate partners because regular restaurant work isn’t always sustainable.


Like several other nonprofits we’ve covered recently, Farming Hope helps people who are struggling by providing culinary training. But in this case, graduates don’t end up in traditional restaurant jobs.


Recognizing that working late nights surrounded by partying customers might not be the best environment for vulnerable populations — and that restaurants aren’t the most stable of industries — Farming Hope concentrates on 9-to-5 food-service positions. On the long list of post-program jobs are things like corporate catering gigs at Google and farm work at edible landscaping companies.


“Every partner I’ve found is a very specific niche,” Farming Hope program director Ave Lambert told Billy Penn. “We’re looking for more sustainable careers, and not so intense or stressful with such low wages and benefits. We want careers where people can stay for a long time.”


Once people complete the 12-week program, they’re provided with employment opportunities at a network of partner companies — with search engine giants the most famous among them


We’re showcasing this example to inspire applications to the Full City Challenge, a collaboration between Billy Penn and the Economy League to jumpstart solutions to hunger by leveraging our region’s robust food economy.


Through Jan. 24 (next week!), we’re accepting short proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new collaborations that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty that affect too many residents.


If we like your idea, we’ll give you $5,000 to pilot it, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of strategic advice to help get a test off the ground.


We’ve already shown off a bunch of this work, both in Philly and around the country. So far we’ve highlighted:



The Monkey & The Elephant

Homeboy Industries


Up next: Farming Hope.



Farming Hope helps out people who’ve experienced a wide variety of challenges — homelessness, incarceration, addiction, mental illness and disability — by prepping them for high-quality food jobs. The three-month curriculum has three parts: kitchen, garden and life skills.



San Francisco, California



The Bay Area company has roots more than 3,000 miles south. Co-founder Jamie Stark was inspired when he took a trip to El Salvador and found a church that employed homeless people in its backyard garden — then served that food in its soup kitchen.


Stark went on to attend Stanford, where he met Kevin Madrigal. The two gave the idea a shot in the 2016, founding Farming Hope.



Farming Hope works like a giant pipeline.


It starts with the org’s collection of partners that supply employees. Homeless shelters suggest folks to hire, and then Farming Hope takes them on, offering 12 weeks of part-time employment split between a restaurant kitchen and a produce garden.


Along the way, the employees get life skills coaching and regular family dinners — where they munch on the produce they’ve grown themselves.


“Then we get them hired,” Lambert said. “And we maintain a light touch around it for the next nine months to a year to make sure it’s working out and a good fit.”


Bonus: The program serves most of its food to people experiencing hunger, since the partner restaurant, Manny’s, offers free meals five nights a week and $6 meals all the time.


The whole operation is funded by sponsorships and private donations — a model that has proven successful for Farming Hope. In 2018, the program graduated 10 total employees — but they’re expecting huge growth this year.


Farming Hope is set to open its first restaurant in June, at which point its capacity will multiply. Right now, they work in a borrowed restaurant kitchen and a garden donated by a church. With its own space, the org could employ as many as 20 people at a time.


“All of our hiring partners are like, we would take 80 people right now,” Lambert said. “There’s no lack of jobs in this niche…. We would love to just keep growing and serve as many people as we can.”


“We will graduate an estimated 50 people in 2019,” she added. “With our new space, that’s a lofty goal, but we set lofty goals last year and we made them.”



To make this program work in Philly, we’d need:


- Kitchen space for training

- Green space for farming

- Food-related orgs that would serve as hiring partners

- Funders and donations


This article originally appeared on Billy Penn.