Harvest Park Healthy Food Hub
Inspired by DC Central Kitchen, Upstate entrepreneur Liberty Canzater created a place for un- and underemployed locals to learn job skills in the kitchen.
When I meet Chef Courtney Lindsey in his kitchen at the Monarch Café in Spartanburg, he offers an elbow bump in greeting. He’s at work already on this early spring morning, prepping vegetables for the day’s menu, a well-ordered dice of red pepper slipping off the knife edge. Lunch service starts at 11.
I am (like always) late. I have a laundry list of excuses I offer— traffic, construction, science homework— and plenty I don’t. It’s no matter. Courtney wasn’t waiting on me.
“Time is against you when you’re in the kitchen.” He means this literally, and conceptually. If he gives his staff a task, the clock is already ticking, hungry people waiting. But also, when it comes to dreams of owning their own restaurants, running their own catering businesses, time is already against them too.
80% of the staff for Monarch Café comes from The Culinary Job Training Program, a 15-week course for unemployed, underemployed, homeless or previously incarcerated people looking for careers in food service. The program is sponsored by The Butterfly Foundation, next door neighbors to the café here at Northside’s new healthy food hub, Harvest Park. Courtney grew up in this neighborhood. He’s a graduate of the culinary program himself.
“It’s a free education,” he says, “but it ain’t really free. Everybody’s spirit is different, but it’s going to take something from you.” He remembers those days of early mornings in class and long shifts at work afterward, holding down a job so he could train for a better job. After supporting him, Courtney’s wife is now a graduate of the program, too.
“It ain’t free,” he says again. “You will pay with your time.” For as stern as this sounds, when I ask what it’s like to work with these graduates he’s got one of those good laughs, the kind that fills the space between us.
“Like working with a stick of dynamite,” he says. “They’re getting two years worth of knowledge in 15 weeks, loads of new knowledge they’re itching to practice.” Knife skills, stocks and sauces, techniques with seafood, grains and pastas. His advice to students is to get comfortable with recipes and conversions, how to make things bigger or smaller. “Math is the most important skill in the kitchen,” he says. “I don’t care what anybody tells you. I’m glad I was strong in that in school.”
He says sometimes people need to be reminded of the routine of this career, the rhythm of doing the same prep every day. “There’s the glamour on TV, but the hard work is cleaning pots,” he says. “It’s humbled me.”
He’s still cutting peppers while we’re talking, running his knife around the vegetable’s core to lay it flat, measuring strips into neat squares. It’s technique he learned in this kitchen, and now he uses it in this kitchen.
“This is an opportunity,” he says. He emphasizes it. Opportunities aren’t free either.
The Butterfly Foundation and its culinary program is the brainchild of Liberty Canzater, and the result of over a decade of careful organization, planning, and hard work. In 2007, she was mentoring women living in her and her husband’s rental properties, trying to help them navigate services that would help them stabilize their lives. “A lot of the time, when you are in poverty situations, you’re overwhelmed,” she says. It’s hard to prioritize when there’s so much you need, and when past hardships and mistakes have limited your choices.
The Butterfly Foundation began by addressing the housing challenge, but affordable housing comes with the tandem hurdle of steady employment. Liberty knew that food service was a forgiving career path, often built on apprenticeship and hands-on training rather than a person’s track record. She began hatching a next idea.
The Butterfly Foundation’s culinary program is modeled on DC Central Kitchen, an comprehensive, eight million dollar operation built on the idea that food can be a tool to build communities and change individual lives. “We didn’t even have a quarter at the time,” Liberty says, “and I don’t like to cook.” But it was the empowerment sessions in the DC Central Kitchen program that impressed her: intimate classroom conversations with community mentors, giving participants tools to make better decisions both inside and outside the kitchen.
She went to Mitch Kennedy at the City of Spartanburg, who offered the old Head Start kitchens at the Northwest Community Center. At the Mary Black Foundation, then-program director Curt McPhail was a supporter, but said she would need to find the start-up money herself. “Then he called one afternoon and said, ‘you will not believe who’s serving me right now.’” Liberty laughs. He was eating lunch at DC Central Kitchen, and mightily impressed. They began working together to find a suitable grant.
Culinary instruction is run by American Culinary Federation-certified chef Mike Simpson. There have been 17 classes since the program began, 160 graduates since last fall. The course includes three weeks of soft skills training—things like teamwork, ethics, and problem solving, inspired by those empowerment classes in DC Central Kitchen— and 12 weeks of kitchen training in the space Monarch Café uses for lunch service. Participants break down vegetables to freeze and sell in the Fresh Foods Market attached to the café, and help with basic prep for the next day’s menus. They take field trips to Sysco and the Milliken Guest House, as well as 40 hours of internship work at places like Denny’s and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Cribb’s Kitchen and Two Samuels.
“I really think of this program as a 15 week-long interview, “ Liberty says, “because I really can’t fight for you if you don’t show up here.” Considering her resourcefulness and grace, the quiet way she recounts her role in big community change, it’s hard to imagine a stronger force in your corner.
In 2010, The Mary Black Foundation, Hub City Farmers Market, the City of Spartanburg, the Northside Development Group and The Butterfly Foundation acquired a grant from Department of Health and Human Services to address the food desert in North Spartanburg. Harvest Park opened in 2014. A market pavilion for the Hub City Farmers Market shares a parking lot with offices for The Butterfly Foundation, the Monarch Café and Fresh Foods Store. Northside Development Group manages the surrounding land, where they’re working on bringing Butterfly Creek out from under pavement and back to its natural habitat, developing greenway space with bike trails, which can be enjoyed via the B-Cycle stations nearby. This is also where HCFM runs their half-acre Urban Farm.
It’s a beautifully symbiotic development. On Saturdays, as the market is closing, staff from Monarch Café has the chance to talk to farmers and vendors. For many, this is a new opportunity to understand where fresh food comes from. The sense of rebirth is everywhere.
When I ask Liberty about what’s next for The Butterfly Foundation, she speaks about growth in the community, reaching more and different underserved populations. In the past year, Courtney has begun teaching a course on life skills to residents at The Charles Lea Center, which supports people with physical and mental disabilities. From kitchen safety to basic nutrition, his hope is to help these people find more independence, his way of giving back.
“You do better at the things you love,” he says. “I do this.”
The Butterfly Foundation
498 Howard Street
Monarch Café and Fresh Food Store
498 Howard Street
Cocktails and Cuisine Cooking Classes
Once a month, the kitchen at Monarch Café opens to the public for chef-led cooking classes centered around a theme. Each class includes a signature cocktail, wine, and all the courses, plus the fun of learning something new to take home to your own kitchen. “You should see their faces,” Courtney says, “Once they figure out they can do it.”
Tacos and Tequilla