The North Bay fires may no longer be raging, but the people who live there are just starting to get their lives back in order. As Sonoma, Napa and Santa Rosa are agricultural areas, many of those who were affected by the fires have seen not only their homes, but their livelihoods upended when vineyards, dairy and produce farms were destroyed in the fires.
Fortunately, the food community is a close knit one, and even those who weren’t anywhere near the fires are continuing to respond to help those affected. In the East Bay, several restaurants, food and drink retailers, and others in the food industry are banding together to host fundraising efforts to help their neighbors up north. In particular, populations hit hardest by the North Bay fires — small farmers and the immigrant communities employed by the vineyards, farms, restaurants and other hospitality services in the areas.
“Because of our proximity to the farming community and vineyard workers in particular, it was very clear to us that there was going to be some unmet needs for those who would not get government aid,” Davis said. “There would be a big gap that would affect low-income workers and undocumented workers, on whom we’re all so dependent.””All of our businesses are pretty closely tied to vineyards, farms or the other industries that have been affected so heavily by the fires,” said Julia Rhodes Davis, co-owner of Oakland Yard wine shop in Temescal about the upcoming collaborative benefit event she’s helping to organize. The event will take place at Camino on Nov. 28, where guests will mingle while enjoying food made by California-Korean pop-up Nokni (grilled meats, mung bean fritters, harvest kimchi and other banchan) and wine curated by Oakland Yard. There will also be a raffle and a silent auction, with prizes like a private dinner for eight at Zuni and a mezcal dinner at Cala. Tickets are $100.
Knowing this and having experience working in the non-profit sector, Davis identified San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation as an ideal partner for the event. The organization works to empower Latino communities by working with philanthropists, non-profits, community leaders and policy makers.
“We picked the Latino Community Foundation because they have been working in the area for a long time and already have grant strategies in place so the money will get to people right away,” said Camino co-owner, Allison Hopelain. “The funds we raise will be split equally between North Bay Organizing Project (in Santa Rosa), UpValley Family Centers (in Calistoga), and La Luz Center (in Sonoma).” Each of these groups works closely with farmworker communities and their families.
“The recovery is going to take a long time, and the Latino Community Foundation will be there long after the immediate response window is over,” said Davis.
Dana Frasz, founder and director of Food Shift in Alameda, also honed in on the needs of vulnerable communities affected by the fire. Although she has friends who lost homes in the devastation, she ultimately knew they would recover due to their access to support systems and federal aid. But Frasz knew there were a lot of people in the North Bay who don’t have that.
“They don’t have a bank account, they don’t speak much English, or they feel like they can’t go to agencies who are helping because they are afraid,” Frasz said.
Food Shift is an organization combating food waste and working for social justice in the food system. Frasz knew she had connections in her world that would want to help affected communities in the North Bay recover. She reached out to her personal mentor, Cathryn Couch, founder and executive director of the Ceres Community Project, a Sebastapol-based organization that makes healthy, nutritious meals for critically ill people in Marin and Sonoma counties. Frasz had first met Couch when their two organizations shared a kitchen space in Alameda.
Frasz was inspired by the Ceres Project’s participation in fire relief efforts. When the fires started, “Ceres shifted into overdrive,” Frasz said, making 3,000 to 5,000 meals a week for first responders and displaced residents. And, when the flames died down, it started to redirect the conversation about recovery to be more inclusive and long-term, with social justice and equity in mind.
Collaborating with Ceres for a fundraiser was a no brainer for Frasz, but soon others would join and add the needed elements to make it an event. In seven days, after putting out a call for help, the benefit dinner, which will take place on Dec. 4 at C’era Una Volta in Alameda, came together.
C’era Una Volta chef Rudy Fanetti-Duránce was one of the first to join, offering the restaurant space, plates and silverware, as well as offering to make desserts for the event. Frasz’s friend who owns Shanty Shack Brewing in Santa Cruz offered to donate a keg. Berkeley’s Donkey & Goat Winery stepped in with a donation of wine. And a few musician friends offered to perform. Food Shift Kitchen will make the meal using recovered produce that would have been discarded by farms and distributors because of imperfections. And Couch will be at the event, discussing the work Ceres is doing for fire relief and recovery. Tickets are $30, and all proceeds from the benefit dinner will go to Ceres Project and UndocuFund, an organization that works directly with undocumented communities affected by the Sonoma County fires.
Willow Blish, co-leader of Slow Food East Bay, a local chapter of the International Slow Food movement, has also identified UndocuFund as a beneficiary for the upcoming Agricultural Fire Relief Fundraiser she is currently organizing, as well as The Farmers Guild’s North Bay Just & Resilient Future Fire Relief Fund, which raises money for mid- and long-term grants for recovery for small farms. Slow Food East Bay works to support and partner with other food justice organizations and groups working to provide nutritional access to more communities. The groups Blish wanted to help were first to come to mind, even before having any other details ironed out.
As of now, Blish has the framework for the fundraiser. She has a date (Dec. 3), a venue (Bauman College in Berkeley), has set up a Facebook page and Eventbrite for the benefit and has even sold eight tickets to the event. There’ll be food and drinks, a silent auction and live music, but exactly what those will be are still TBD. Blish hopes to find contributions, volunteers and donations from chefs, caterers, restaurants, breweries, wineries and any others who are interested in lending a hand.
Although the details are still hazy, Blish seemed optimistic it will all come together. (Those who want to volunteer or donate can contact Blish at email@example.com.) And based on the response by the East Bay food community (and the Bay Area at large), it’s likely it will.
“I think one of the things that’s inspiring is people are coming together to support,” said Fransz. “You see the kindness of people and the strength of community.”
One more fire relief benefit
This Saturday, Nov. 11, from noon to 7 p.m., minimo wine shop in Jack London Square is hosting a winemaker tasting event with Belden Barns, a Sonoma based winery that makes limited-production wines. Four Belden Barns wines will be offered as a flight for $20. While Belden Barns was not physically affected by the fires, owners Nate and Lauren Belden are fundraising to help the winemakers, farmers and people in the surrounding areas who were. One hundred percent of proceeds raised at the minimo wine tasting will go to Redwood Credit Union Fire Relief Fund; and on top of this, they’ve secured a private donor who is matching donations (up to $100k!). Time your visit between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., when Nate and Lauren will be on hand to tell you firsthand about their wines. In addition, minimo said that its November and quarterly wine-club offerings will be from areas affected by the fires. minimo, 420 Third St. (between Franklin and Broadway), Oakland