By Patrick Newson

Entry into the world of food and culinary creativity is often limited by cost, gender, culture, or location. Marigold Cooking Collective aims to lower those barriers into the bounty of delicious delights in the Willamette Valley. Marigold’s multi-faceted operation has been dependent on collaborative events, fundraisers, and a handful of regular donors. But the collective has grown and flourished through the persistence and dedication of founder and executive director Gracie Schatz and her team. “We couldn’t do this on our own,” Schatz says. Rather than continuing to ask friends and small businesses for funding, Schatz organized a board of directors composed of community members in the food, technology, and education sectors and found stability as a registered 501c3 nonprofit in June 2022. “Now we can operate as a group,” she says, “more than just a wild idea that I keep following.” 

The seeds of Marigold Cooking Collective (MCC) germinated early in the pandemic shutdown, when Schatz, ever-focused on gathering community (even at a distance), began hosting online cooking classes under the umbrella of Heart of Willamette Cooking School. “I was teaching every day,” Schatz says, “and the response was amazing. People wanted connection more than ever.” Some of the classes had dozens of attendees. Simultaneously, she began working alongside members of CORE (Community Outreach through Radical Empowerment) Eugene to provide meals for the weekly streetfeed for unhoused youth downtown. 

Her cooking classes range from Eastern European dumplings, traditional Tunisian cuisine, and West Indian cooking to whole-animal butchery, with the intention to “preserve, honor, and share culinary food traditions and stories.” Schatz has implemented a job training program specifically for LGBTQ teenagers. Marigold also operates as a catering company. Schatz says she is dedicated to providing and nurturing a safe space for young people along with culinary training, “bringing in the next generation of cooks to know that they have value,” she says. One of the first employees, Emma Fairman, a 10th grade student at Child’s Way Charter School, took a class from Schatz at school and was invited to participate in another class for free (all youth can register for Marigold classes at no cost). 

Photo courtesy of Gracie Schatz

After the event, Fairman started to help clean up and began a conversation about employment. “Cooking is a way to make people really happy with food,” Fairman says. “It lightens the mood and offers a medium for people to socialize. Gracie pays really well, and it is an important opportunity to learn and get into something as a teenager that isn’t just fast food.”

Schatz, along with co-organizer Noelle Schaefer, is curating a biannual event called the “Release (It) Party,” a multi-disciplinary dinner specifically for women, femme, and gender-expansive survivors of sexual assault. This will be a “nourishing and decadent experience for people to feel spoiled and share their stories,” says Schaefer. By including a variety of local textile artists, florists, licensed mental health professionals, healers, and, of course, a delicious menu, the hope is for an intentional and thoughtful event to provoke narratives of reclamation. “You don’t get your time back,” says Schaefer, but this event is “to nourish a part of our community that has had to go through a violent rape culture, to gather and share and facilitate healing.” 

Since its inception, MCC has called for community support to provide community support. A variety of local businesses and individuals have stepped up to offer resources and space. Food businesses like Party Bar, Noisette, Yardy, Lion & Owl, Newman’s Fish Market, the Kiva, and Yabai Nikkei have generously donated food and kitchen space, along with discounts, social media boosting, and regular fundraising efforts. “Our culture trends toward isolation,” says Schatz, but with Marigold Cooking Collective, “we want to help people learn to cook things, get people talking with strangers and integrating with the community in new ways.”