As SFUSD Students Go Back to School, Foodwise Kids Nourishes Their Sense of Belonging

Nesley Rojo, Foodwise Kids & Families Education Manager
August 17, 2023

This week’s article is written by Nesley Rojo, our Foodwise Kids & Families Education Manager (pictured above).

In San Francisco, students went back to school this week, and at Foodwise, we’re getting ready to welcome them back to the farmers market through our Foodwise Kids program. Foodwise Kids is a free educational program that we provide for thousands of elementary school students in the San Francisco Unified School District. We offer field trips at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, as well as cooking classes and Family Cook Nights, where kids and their families cook together. 

Our goals are to nurture kids’ love and connection to fruits and vegetables, empower them to have agency in what they eat and how they prepare it, and help them feel more connected to and aware of our local food system. As San Francisco youth continue to adjust to in-person education and a new sense of normalcy since the pandemic, Foodwise Kids also helps nourish their sense of wellness and belonging.

Resocializing and Building Community In-Person, for the First Time

Over the last year we’ve found that, for our participating teachers, Foodwise Kids may be their first time venturing out into the world with their students, especially first and second graders. The kids did much of their schooling remotely during the pandemic and have missed out on a lot of in-person learning and socializing over the last three years. They’re often a little bit nervous or haven’t really gotten a chance to develop their social skills, like sharing and open-mindedness, which are skills that kids focus on during kindergarten to second grade.

During the field trip, they work in small groups and have a team building moment, where they all get to know each other while they share their names and their favorite fruits and veggies. Then, in the farmers market, they practice working together to decide what they want to buy and who’s going to prepare what. 

Together, we talk about the differences between shopping at a grocery store and shopping at a farmers market. Obviously, it’s totally fine to shop at grocery stores, and most people do. But with Foodwise Kids, we’re also showing them, “Here’s this other option that you have. You can come here and take up space, meet the farmers, and be a part of this community.”

Understanding a Kid’s Place in the Food System

The farmers market field trip is a special opportunity for the kids to get to know their community. Farmers are always open to chatting with the kids and answering their questions, and kids don’t really get to do that very often. If they go to a grocery store, they’re not buying the produce from the person who grew it.

When they’re interacting with the farmers, my personal favorite question that they ask is how to pick a ripe fruit. Kids learn to hold it, be gentle, and look for signs or feel for parts of the fruit or the veggie that might indicate that it’s ripe or or ready to eat. 

Then, we help them familiarize themselves with our local geography and let them know these strawberries come from Yerena Farms, for example, which is located near Santa Cruz. Then, they are able to make that connection on their own. They get really excited and say, “Yeah, I’ve been there. I know that place. This fruit that I’m eating was grown really close to me!”

Like many people, I personally didn’t grow up going to farmers markets. Being able to welcome kids to the farmers market and letting them know that this is a place for them—for everyone in their community, even kids—hopefully helps establish this sense of belonging in San Francisco and our local food system.

Empowering Future Change Agents Beyond the Classroom 

Through Foodwise Kids, we aim to provide an educational experience that is needed but not often offered to students in public schools because of budgeting and staffing constraints like those currently faced at SFUSD. Demand for the program remains high, and we already have more than 100 classes on the waitlist for this fall. For these free field trips, we prioritize schools with higher percentages of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

Teachers often request to schedule their field trip to line up with their lesson plans. They say, “This week, we’re learning about food in our science class,” “This week we’re talking about family recipes,” or “In my class, we’d love to come this week because that would really complement our curriculum.” 

We’re able to supplement their education at school with experiences that are just as important as what they’re learning in the traditional academic setting, like math or writing. Through Foodwise Kids, more students have a healthier relationship to our food system and our planet, and even a healthier personal relationship with food. 

Children are a vulnerable population, and we must nurture their growth and confidence as much as possible. Choosing and cooking your own food are vital life and survival skills. Through these experiences, kids feel that they have agency to make their own decisions about what they eat and how they eat it, whether that means supporting a local farm or learning a new skill, like how to safely hold a knife.

All kids deserve access to fresh produce and exposure to farmers markets and food education. We are trying to bridge that gap for them. By providing these positive early experiences at the farmers market, we can make sure kids feel empowered not only in choosing what they eat, but in becoming the change makers in their community.

Foodwise Kids was partially funded by a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The grant ended in June, and now, Foodwise Kids needs the support of you, our community, more than ever. Help us meet our Back to School, Back to the Farmers Market goal of $30,000 by August 31. Donate today!

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