It all started quite innocently.

At the time, I was dividing my time between two of my passions – working part-time as a chef at a retreat center in the western hills of Sonoma County and teaching horseback riding and training dressage horses at a farm in Santa Rosa. After spending ten years running a home-delivered meal service, I was enjoying the simplicity of getting paid for my work and not having to take it home with me.

On a lovely June day in 2006, I was driving to the barn when my cell phone rang. Sue Curry, my riding instructor, wondered if I could give her daughter a job over the summer and perhaps teach her to cook at the same time. There was no easy solution. I wasn’t in a position to hire anyone – and who takes someone who can’t cook on a catering job? But Sue was persistent and I have always been more inclined to say yes than no when the universe comes calling.

One conversation led to another and a couple weeks later I suddenly thought about a friend whom I knew was involved in the local cancer support community. One call confirmed that, yes, there were definitely families who could use help with meals. Sue offered to pay for the food, I donated my time, and Megan and I began meeting one afternoon a week to prepare meals for two single people and a family of four – all of them dealing with cancer or other serious health issues.

As Megan and I cooked together, I talked about my love of working with food. She gained confidence chopping and dicing and moved on to blanching and sautéing. Every afternoon, we packaged the food we’d made, creating grocery bags of meals for our three families. One of the first times that we cooked, the husband of a woman with breast cancer stopped to pick up their food on his way home from work. I had never met him before and introduced myself and Megan. We told him about the food we had prepared. I witnessed Megan’s pride in the contribution she was making in their life and his deep gratitude for the simple gift of the meals. Something about that moment took hold in me.

Several weeks later, I woke early in the morning with a vision of a non-profit that would bring young people into the kitchen to learn to cook and eat healthy foods and then provide meals to individuals and families who were touched by serious illness. I wanted more people to benefit from what Megan and our three families were experiencing.

What prompted Sue to call me that day? When the idea entered my mind to call the friend who was involved in the cancer support community – where did that come from? And the vision of this as a non-profit, whose idea was that?

The Ceres Community Project’s story is filled with seemingly inexplicable moments, connections, ideas and conversations. An expert in Quickbooks shows up to volunteer just as we’ve filed our incorporation papers and need to create our own accounting system. Someone passes a brochure to a local reporter in a moment when we are expanding. She writes a full-page story and we benefit from a needed influx of volunteers. A professional chef just happens to wander into an event we are catering as a fundraiser, picks up our brochure and calls me – a month before we are adding our second cooking day and I’m scrambling for help.

Over the past three years I’ve deepened my understanding of the energy or spirit at work in the universe. When we are able to open ourselves to its magic, when we learn to be attentive to where it is leading us – not just to our own plans and ideas – amazing things can happen. Today, The Ceres Community Project is truly the co-creation of hundreds of people, each of whom said “yes” in a moment of awareness that they had something to contribute, that there was a role to play in something larger. That first morning when I “saw” what would become The Ceres Community Project, I remember being filled with excitement. The vision was very clear and I sensed an elegance to it – the way that it addressed so many needs in the community and so many things that I cared deeply about. Young people would learn to cook. People who needed healing food would have it. We would help teach people about the link between what we eat and our health. And we’d help to restore the idea of caring for our neighbors, something that had been lost between my parents’ generation and my own.

Despite what I thought I understood, I can look back now and tell you that I barely had a clue about what the universe had in mind when it planted the idea for Ceres. Today, the project continues to unfold in ways that surprise me – and I imagine that a year or two from now, we will still be discovering more about how the heart of The Ceres Community Project wants to express itself.

(The Ceres story is excerpted from and continues in the introduction of the Ceres Project cookbook, Nourishing Connections Cookbook, The Healing Power of Food & Community.)