CUESA’s Foodwise Kids Go to Bay Leaf Kitchen Summer Camp

Julia Irwin and Ana Valdes, CUESA Interns
June 26, 2015

Founded just over a year ago, Bay Leaf Kitchen teaches kids about farm-to-table cooking through fun, hands-on activities. This year, CUESA co-sponsored two week-long sessions of Bay Leaf Kitchen’s summer camp, where kids learn about, purchase, cook, and eat farm-fresh produce from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and then trace their food to its roots by visiting a working organic farm.

For campers, taking control of their food is a new and exciting experience. “I liked that the counselors let you pick what you want!” camper Crystal Tse, 8, said. “The farmers are really nice, and they tell us all about their farms.”

Tse is one of 15 recipients of a new CUESA scholarship that takes the Foodwise Kids program to the next level. The scholarships pay for students who have participated in Foodwise Kids, CUESA’s culinary farmers market field trip for public elementary school classes, to attend Bay Leaf Kitchen summer camp. Funded by generous donors at CUESA’s annual fall gala, the scholarships give priority to families with the greatest financial need.

“Instead of just going on a field trip with my class, I get to go by myself and cook and learn new experiences and foods,” said Nathan Ng, 9, another enthusiastic scholarship recipient. “This is my first time going to a farm. I get to go on a trip and sleep in a sleeping bag without my family.”

Deepening the Cooking Experience

For Bay Leaf Kitchen’s Executive Director and Co-Founder Elianna Friedman, the scholarship program is an important way to increase access to the summer cooking camp. “CUESA fundraises to provide the scholarships for kids whose families otherwise can’t afford it,” Friedman said. “Bay Leaf Kitchen is fortunate to have this really good connection with CUESA.”

During her time as Market Chef at CUESA, Friedman started the Foodwise Kids program to nurture children’s love for fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. Last year she set off on her own to found Bay Leaf Kitchen with past Foodwise Kids volunteer Amy Nghe in order to provide a deeper dive for students.

“Foodwise Kids is a good introduction, but having the kids for a little bit longer during the summer program means they get to do more to establish a new, positive relationship with food,” Friedman said. “Foodwise Kids and Bay Leaf Kitchen have the same goals and mission, but Foodwise Kids is like step one, and then Bay Leaf Kitchen is step two.”

At Bay Leaf Kitchen camp, kids spend a week immersed in healthy cooking and eating, with the first three days spent learning cooking fundamentals in the CUESA Kitchen. Campers are given market tokens to shop for fresh ingredients at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to use in their cooking classes. They’re granted freedom of choice, resulting in creative dishes like made-from-scratch pizza topped with avocado, blueberries, and honey.

“We’re learning to make different countries’ foods, like Indian and Italian,” said scholarship recipient Logan Cheng, 11. “We learned some knife skills, how to make pickles, and how to make naan and dal. The most fun part is cooking and then eating it yourself, and also learning everything.”

Kids also learn about local produce through a guessing game in which they try to distinguish locally grown produce from imported, and they interview farmers to learn more about where their food comes from and to collect fun, food-related facts, later voting on their favorites.

From the Kitchen to the Farm

After three days in the kitchen, campers pack their bags and hit the road to get the bigger picture of a sustainable food system. Campers venture out of the temperate Bay Area climate and into the heat at Eatwell Farm in Dixon, California, to explore the farm with co-owner Lorraine Walker.

“It’s very fun,” camp counselor Kourtnii Brown says. “I love the freedom the kids have, out in the country. You just get a different perspective than you do from city life.”

During the first session, the campers paid a visit to the ducks and geese, then fawned over the Walkers’ horse Stella and cows Maybel and the pregnant Helen-May. Then the flora took center stage when campers were introduced to the herbs they would later cook with. They learned to harvest basil by pinching off individual leaves, learned to tell parsley from cilantro, and debated the correct pronunciation of “lemon verbena.”

As the campers weaved through rows of apricot, nectarine, peach, aprium, and mulberry trees, a camper shyly raised her hand and asked, “Are we allowed to eat them?”

Walker gave the okay, and the kids raced through the trees, filling their bags with fruit.

“I love watching the kids from the first day, when some of them are hesitant or shy about the foods they’re going to eat, to the last day when, as you can see, they are literally running through the fields, picking things off bushes and eating them,” says Bay Leaf Kitchen’s Director of Communications Rachel Kiichli. “They’re fearless, and they’re excited.”

Taking Lessons Back Home

After this week-long immersion, Bay Leaf Kitchen campers bring their newfound cooking confidence and excitement about healthy food into their homes. Parent David Brown noticed the impact immediately when his son Harrison, 9, attended camp on a CUESA scholarship earlier this month.

“After class, Harrison helped me prepare dinner one night and we went through the ingredients, measuring cup sizes, and implements we would need,” said Brown. “We talked about the different things they had cooked in his class and what he learned. Harrison has always enjoyed cooking, and I think the class gave him a bit more appreciation of what he could do when Dad wasn’t there to tell him what to do.”

For kids who have had little to no experience in the kitchen, Friedman has also seen dramatic results. “We get a lot of great feedback from the parents, about kids who weren’t really interested in food,” she said. “After camp, not only are they excited about eating healthy food when the parent brings it up, but they initiate it. We got pictures from one parent of their kid peeling and slicing up carrots to make a snack for the family. The mom was like, ‘I didn’t even know we had carrots.’ The kid had brought them home.”

This, to Friedman, is what Bay Leaf Kitchen is all about.

“One of the main impacts we can see already is a stronger connection between farms and families,” Friedman said. “That is our main goal, our mission. I believe that the lessons they’re learning are being passed on to their families and their peers, everywhere they go.”

CUESA’s Foodwise Kids scholarships have already been granted for the year, but Bay Leaf Kitchen is offering two more weeks of camp at other locations in July.

All photos by Ana Valdes, except for the bottom photo by Bay Leaf Kitchen.

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