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Youth Leaders: Foodwise Teens Program Prepares Youth for a Future in Food

Savannah Kuang, CUESA Staff

Every Friday afternoon, directly across from San Francisco’s iconic Twin Peaks at the Academy - San Francisco @ McAteer, 14 high school students stay late after school to deepen their knowledge of the food system through hands-on learning experiences. On this particular afternoon, they leave the classroom to stroll down a hill to the School Farm filled with vegetables and herbs and begin harvesting produce to sell at the farmers market the following day.

These students are part of the first crew of Foodwise Teens, a paid job-training program launched this January by CUESA. Building on eight years of success with the Schoolyard to Market program, Foodwise Teens gives students opportunities to build their professional skill set while learning about sustainable food. Meeting once a week, students use school gardens to grow food, prepare value-add products in the kitchen, and hone their customer service and public speaking skills by selling at CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Mission Community Market. At the end of the program, the interns receive a stipend for their labor, rewarding them for their hard work and dedication to food justice.

Developing Life and Job Skills

Tessa Kappe, CUESA’s Youth Education Manager, and Anisha Rathod, CUESA’s new Education Specialist, instruct Foodwise Teens at John O’Connell High School, Mission High School, and the Academy. For them, the goal is to help students who live in the city cultivate a deeper awareness of their food choices and see themselves as agents of change.

“These are things we don’t typically learn about, but they are fundamental to our lives,” said Tessa. “It’s especially important to reclaim our ability to make decisions around our health and nurture our relationship with nature.”

According to Anisha, Foodwise Teens helps bring issues of food justice and equity to the table. “Programs like these are really important to address the inaccessibility of food education for young people of color,” she said. “Knowledge of how to grow food and build a viable business out of it should be available to everyone.”

The program offers an opportunity for students to develop vital skills that will prepare them beyond high school. For many students, Foodwise Teens may be their first paid job. Nik, a freshman at the Academy, said that he applied to Foodwise Teens because he was interested in a paid internship. “I’m doing this program so that it would look great on my college resume,” said Nik.

Students are also using this experience to explore career possibilities. “I’m not sure what type of career I want to go for yet, but I’m hoping that this program will open new doors for me,” said Gabriel, a freshman at the Academy.

For the Love of Gardening and Cooking

Developing their cooking skills has been a source of confidence and exploration for the interns. “I like learning how to cook because I don’t get to cook very often at home,” said Hannah, a senior at the Academy.

Learning to grow food in the school garden complements their culinary training, as they follow food from soil to plate. “I really wanted to learn more about plants and the components of gardening because I want to create my own garden at home,” said Gabriel. “I’m also thinking about learning how to grow healthy foods and cooking them at home, too.”

“Teaching cooking skills is empowering and hopefully can have long-term impacts on youth’s health,” said Tessa. “It changes their relationship with food and their physical health.”

Community and Leadership

Each week at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays and Mission Community Market on Thursday evenings, a few students from all three participating high schools come together to set up the Foodwise Teens booth and arrange their freshly harvested herbs and veggies, handmade pickles, and flowers. At the market, students meet their fellow Foodwise Teens from other schools and work together as a team to draw in market-goers.

Bringing students together from different schools is a way for them to connect with people outside of their typical social circles. “I think it’s great to see kids who have never met from different schools be a part of these markets together,” said Anisha.

Students see selling directly to customers at the farmers market as one of the highlights of their time at Foodwise Teens. “We meet a lot of interesting people at the market, and they are very supportive of us,” said Vincent, a junior at the Academy.

Rhea, a senior at the Academy, agreed. “It gives me the opportunity to interact with people and experience different cultures.”

Tessa has already witnessed huge impacts with the first group of Foodwise Teens interns. “We’ve seen students grow immensely in confidence and open-mindedness,” said Tessa. “This program is crucial because it gives young people tools they can carry with them throughout their lives. We need their leadership to make change.”

Visit the Foodwise Teens booth tomorrow (March 16) at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, next Thursday (March 21) at Mission Community Market, and Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market from April 20 to May 25. Learn more here.


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