Cooking for Community Building: An interview with Jennifer “Hopey” Foster


By Taylor Brock.

Taylor Brock spent her summer as an intern at The Laundromat Project working with the Kelly Street Garden. During her time she helped support the Healthy Cooking classes that residents teach with garden produce. Read about her experience and the wisdom of Jennifer “Hopey” Foster, lifetime Kelly Street resident, community leader, and unofficial neighborhood social coordinator, in charge of making sure everyone feels welcome and well fed!

When Rosalba, the garden coordinator at the Kelly St. Garden, first asked me to attend the community cooking classes at the Kelly Street Garden I really had no idea what to expect. I had been working with the garden throughout the summer, yet had not really had the time to sit down and really get to know anyone from the community. I am from a small city in Tennessee, yet have been attending school in Manhattan for the last 3 years. In my hometown there is a large sense of community and the ideology of “everybody helps everybody” permeates throughout. I had yet to find this ideology in New York until I began my time at Kelly Street. The Kelly Street Community knows, loves, and looks out for one another. This happens in many different ways, but what I want to focus on specifically is how much emphasis the community puts on looking out for each other’s health.

Due to the combination of the amazing women in the Kelly St. Garden Committee and a small community grant from the Citizens Committee for New York City this is the second year that Kelly Street has been able to hold bi-weekly cooking classes. The classes occur at 924 Kelly St. in a basement apartment that has been converted into a community room and each time is led by a different volunteer chef from the community. The first chef of the year was Jennifer “Hopey” Foster.

On Wednesday July 8th six women and two children from the block gathered together for the first community cooking class of the summer. Hopey prepared some incredibly delicious salmon cakes by using herbs from the garden. On the side we had rice, beans, kale, and collard greens [which were also freshly grown in the garden!]. While Hopey was teaching her class, Rosalba was working with the kids to learn about what constitutes a “healthy plate.” During the class there was never a dull or quiet moment, with conversations ranging from the mosquitos in the apartment to discussions on how to cut waste and bake your own bread. The class was lighthearted and fun and most importantly the food was incredible. I had the opportunity to sit down in the Kelly St. Garden with the long-time Kelly St resident, Hopey, to learn more about her philosophy and approach to cooking.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I have been living on Kelly Street all my life. I came here when I was 13 and lived with Mr and Mrs. Potts. They took me and my brother in as foster kids even though they had 6 other kids, including my sister Carolyn. I lived with them until I was 21 and then I got my own apartment and was on my own. I first lived in 928 and from 928 moved to 940. I’ve been there for almost 30 years.

Can you tell a little bit about what you made for the cooking class?

For the cooking class I made salmon cakes because salmon cakes are easy and more or less something that everyone will eat. Most of the herbs that were out in the garden I used to put in the salmon cakes. Then I did rice and beans because rice and beans is a fuller meal especially when you don’t have too much money. I did collard greens because we had 3 different kinds in the garden. I mixed them together and stir fryed them with olive oil so everyone could have a chance to taste the kale with the collard greens. I wanted everyone to learn that you can cook them all together. You don’t have to just cook collard greens, you can cook collard greens, kale, and different types of kale if you just chop it up and mix it together.

What does food mean to you? why is cooking important?

Cooking is important because a lot of times if you tell someone you are going have food, people will come out more. Even if people come just for the snacks once you get them in the door, sometimes you can get them to talk, open up, and relate to what’s going on. When we were younger and playing in the backyard we would take our chicken, franks, and burgers and put them on the grill, then all the kids would come down and you could give them a chance to realize that we have the garden and also get them to work in the garden. Food has always played an important part, I mean who doesn’t want a meal!?


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