Empowering Youth through Schoolyard to Market

December 9, 2016

Our community’s healthy future depends on today’s youth having access to fresh fruits and vegetables and taking their health into their own hands. CUESA’s Schoolyard to Market program invests in that future.

This month, we’re highlighting members of our community who embody positive change. By donating to CUESA, you help this healthy food movement grow and be accessible to students who need it the most.

This week, we want you to meet Samantha Gomez, a junior at John O’Connell High School in San Francisco’s Mission District. Samantha participates in CUESA’s semester-long Schoolyard to Market gardening and youth entrepreneurship program. Throughout the 16 weeks, students learn about nutrition and gardening, take field trips to local farms, and sell their school garden produce at CUESA’s farmers markets.

In an urban environment ruled by concrete and cell phone screens, Samantha has found a nourishing alternative by getting her hands in the soil. Growing her own food in the school garden, she has also grown new perspectives on food and the natural world, which have inspired her to share her passion for fruits and vegetables with her family and others. In her own words:

Off the Phone and into the Garden

Before starting Schoolyard to Market, I’d done some gardening in the past, but it was just focused on getting the work done.

But Schoolyard to Market was different. In class, we’re educated on how the foods we grow are good for us, and about what’s in the foods we usually eat, like unhealthy preservatives. All that we grow here in the garden is fresh. It makes me want to eat healthier because I know how we’re growing the food and that there’s nothing wrong with the fruits and vegetables.

I was a little hesitant working in the garden at the beginning, because I have a fear of bugs. They freak me out! But I’m slowly starting to not be afraid. The other day I grabbed a big caterpillar. I was like “Okay, it’s not going to do anything.”

Working in the garden is therapeutic. Just concentrating on feeling the soil and smelling the rosemary and lavender—I love it! This is our chance to interact with nature. We don’t have to think about our problems, we just think about what we’re doing.

It’s so unhealthy for people to always be on their phones, for both their minds and bodies. I feel more frustrated when I’m indoors on my phone, not doing anything productive. When I’m outside, I feel the fresh air. It’s cool growing something and thinking, “Yeah, we actually did this,” and then getting to taste it afterward. 

From Potato Chips to Raw Carrots

In this class, I tasted all this new, fresh produce, and it was good! Usually, all we have at home is carrots and grapes. I’d never tried ground cherries or pineapple guavas before, so now I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I love them!”

Knowing how to grow fruits and vegetables has made me start to eat more of them. Now I bring vegetables to snack on in class. Raw carrots! I wasn’t eating those before. Before it was always chips, chips, chips. I used to always buy junk food and now I don’t anymore.

I really want to grow my own vegetables after this class ends. They taste so much better. The fruit we grow, for instance—there’s a big, big difference in how it tastes compared to what’s in the grocery store.

I’m encouraging my parents to eat healthy, and my brothers. I took some rosemary home from the garden and my dad put it on potatoes. I didn’t know it could taste so good!

The Right to Feel Healthy

We need to have this Schoolyard to Market class, and other students need to have this class, too. Everyone should have the opportunity to know what it feels like to be healthy—what it’s like to have fresh fruits and vegetables. The produce we’re growing in the garden tastes so good and is good for your body.

Once you learn how to grow your own food, your eating habits will change a lot, too. Instead of junk food, you’ll eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. It really changes your life a lot.

Now, when I grow older, I want to have a food truck, but with healthy food. I want to make it delicious, but healthy, so I can share with other people how healthy things taste great too.

A gift to CUESA helps youth like Samantha know what it feels like to be healthy and to love eating fruits and vegetables. These experiences will stay with her for a lifetime. Build the foundation for a healthy food future. Make a tax-deductible donation today.