Lindsay Smith, left-center, laughs as she and a group of young adults with disabilities takes a well-deserved dance break from gardening as part of Sowing Seeds of Change, a new Long Beach-based nonprofit, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

This Saturday, community members can join Sowing Seeds of Change for its first-ever garden chef competition fundraiser.

While the urban farm, which provides workforce training to youth and young adults with disabilities, has hosted smaller-scale events such as pop-ups in the past, this is the first time that the nonprofit will host an event of this scale, said Sowing Seeds of Change co-founder Dina Feldman.

Over the past year and eight months, Feldman and her co-founder, Lindsay Smith, have worked to transform an “empty lot full of garbage” into a blossoming urban farm, all with the help of participating students.

“We’re really excited because it’s been a long time trying to get the site cleaned up, and to get all the pieces together, and also make it an ambiance where people are gonna enjoy themselves and really see the fruits of the labor that we’ve been putting in over the last year and a half,” Feldman said.

During the fundraiser, guests will be able to enjoy not only a farm-to-table event, but a competition element, including five professional chefs who will work alongside five Sowing Seeds of Change participants, all of whom have shown an interest in food or in gaining culinary experience, Feldman said.

“This was just a fun way to help (students) to see what it’s like to really be in a high-stress situation, but also … highlighting the farm and local business collaborations or local chef collaborations,” Feldman said.

The five featured chefs are all local to Long Beach and include Chef Melissa Ortiz; Chef Eugene Santiago of Baryo; Chef Phil Kwan, founder of pop-up and catering business MANEATINGPLANT; Chef Natalie DeRosa, owner of Fare Riot Catering and executive chef of the nonprofit Illumination Foundation; and Chef Hanna Suarez, a Sowing Seeds of Change intern through Long Beach’s workforce development agency, Pacific Gateway.

“We couldn’t have had better chefs, like a better fit, in terms of the vibe that we wanted and the community and what we stand for,” Feldman said.

Sowing Seeds of Change students have worked with the professional chefs to create recipes featuring two ingredients—sage and kale, which they will be executing live during the event, explained Feldman.

At the end of an hour, each recipe will be presented to the judges, while guests are served the same meal that has been replicated by a separate team of volunteer chefs, so the audience and judges will experience the meal at the same time, Feldman said.

While judges will vote on more specific criteria, audience members will also be able to participate by voting on their favorite recipe, and thanks to a sponsorship, the winning student will be awarded a $100 stipend.

“The idea was to highlight what our students are capable of, and also just give them a chance to rise to the occasion and also work alongside a chef,” Feldman said.

Feldman hopes that the fundraiser will shine a light on the work happening within the Sowing Seeds of Change space and will allow guests to experience the impact firsthand, while providing an opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills to the community, she said.

“We’ve created this amazing green space, but it all revolves around the idea that we want to help our students have the most amount of opportunities that they can have,” Feldman said. “I think there’s no better way to get our message out there than for people to actually see it firsthand.”

Although right now, Sowing Seeds of Change has only operated on a part-time basis due to lack of funding, the organization—which works in collaboration with the Long Beach Unified School District’s adult transition program—has provided 30 students with the opportunity to explore different vocational pathways they otherwise would not have had access to, Feldman said.

So far, a couple of students have even gained paid employment, she said.

While people with disabilities are often passed over for opportunities, “we believe that with some accommodations, even with those limitations, they can be really valuable members of a team,” Feldman said.

While planning for the upcoming event has been “nerve wracking,” Feldman said that guests will be able to look forward to a fun atmosphere.

“And I think when people see our students do their thing, I think people are going to be blown away by just what happens when you bring community together and you elevate people, when you support people,” Feldman said. “They rise to the occasion.”

The event on Saturday, March 25, from 4 to 7 p.m., will be located at the Sowing Seeds of Change urban farm, 620 San Francisco Ave. Tickets start at $75 and can be purchased here.