Farmers Markets Are for Everyone: Nourish Foodwise Kids & Families

December 23, 2022

Fourth-grader Dyllan and his mother, Lessley, at the Foodwise Kids Family Cook Night.

For kids to grow up with a love of fresh fruits and vegetables, they need joyful opportunities to taste, learn, and share food in community. When you donate to Foodwise, you are helping San Francisco youth and their families build food wisdom and nurture cooking skills for life.

Through Foodwise Kids, thousands of SFUSD elementary school students have explored the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to discover the joys of fresh produce. Now, through Foodwise’s family cook nights, students are deepening their knowledge and building community through food with their peers, teachers, and families.

Hillcrest Elementary School students at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Taking Foodwise Kids to the Next Level

Since 2012, Foodwise Kids field trips have created a fun, educational space for students to learn about local, seasonal food at the farmers market. Kids meet the farmers, buy produce with market tokens, then taste their market finds together. Students are encouraged to try foods with an open mind, and never “yuck” someone else’s “yum.”

Studies show that kids often need to taste new foods 6 to 15 times before they start to build new eating preferences and habits. That’s why it’s been a long-time goal at Foodwise to provide opportunities for students to deepen their experience beyond the farmers market field trip and engage students’ families, too. 

Foodwise Kids educators, Nesley Rojo and Damaris Bonner.

In the last year, Foodwise began offering free hands-on cooking classes and family cook nights at select SFUSD schools to take students’ learning to the next level. With support from a CDFA grant, Foodwise has hosted 13 on-site cooking classes and three family cook nights so far.

“Visiting the farmers market gets kids to expand their eating and knowledge horizons,” says Foodwise Kids Education Manager Nesley Rojo. “The cooking class and the family cook night are our way to reach them more in depth. We get to build upon relationships and knowledge that we established with them when they came on the field trip.”

Students chop vegetables at the Foodwise Kids Family Cook Night.

Creating Masa Soup Together

It’s a chilly November evening at Hillcrest Elementary School in San Francisco’s Excelsior District. A dozen families have gathered in the cafeteria to prepare a soup of chochoyotes (masa dumplings).

For the students, this is their third Foodwise Kids experience, following their trip to the farmers market and a cooking class making squash tacos, where they got to try out their new kitchen skills. For the parents, it may be their first time ever cooking with their kids, as well as their first in-person school event since the pandemic.

“Because of COVID, we haven’t had a family event at school in three years,” says fourth-grade teacher Anne Hughes. “So it’s really nice seeing everyone start coming back together again and forming community.”

Families making soup at the Foodwise Kids Family Cook Night.

Each family receives a recipe card and a tote bag with ingredients from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, including fresh masa, beans, carrots, peas, celery, and onions. Kids and parents take turns chopping, as the aromas of simmering farmers market veggies and freshly cut herbs fill the room. Some kids get creative shaping their masa dumplings into faces, snakes, and snails.

“The family cook night is that final added time to connect and build upon their skills,” says Rojo. “It’s the third time they’re using a knife and cutting board. They get to show off their skills or teach their younger siblings what they’ve learned. I think they feel really trusted and capable of doing something that’s very adult-like, with our support.”

Second-grader Yuritzkiri and her mother, Rosa, and sister, Maria.

Bringing Cooking Lessons Home

At the end of the cook night, students and their siblings, parents, and teachers enjoy the soup that they’ve all contributed to together. Some share their favorite moments, as well as how they might take this experience home with them.

“I like cutting the vegetables,” says fourth-grader Dyllan. His mother, Lessley, chimes in, “Dyllan always wants to help me cook, so this is a great opportunity for us to cook together.”

For second-grader Yuritzkiri, cooking with her mother and little sister at the cook night brought her initial farmers market experience full circle. “I liked buying the vegetables. I bought beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. And strawberries!” she recalls. “I wanna cook eggs after this with my mom, and carrots.” 

Rosa, Yuritzkiri’s mother, shared her pride in seeing her daughters cook. “We never have time to cook together because they are gone all day at school and activities. Now that I see they are capable and confident enough to use a knife and chop, it will even be helpful for me, and it will be helpful for them to learn this skill.” 

Families enjoy their chochoyotes (masa dumplings) soup.

Kids Building Skills and Habits for Life

Foodwise Kids complements SFUSD’s wellness goals and curriculum, which makes it a favorite field trip for teachers, with spots filling up quickly. “This program dovetails perfectly with all of our initiatives as far as promoting nutrition, healthy eating, wellness, and community,” says teacher and school health advocate Anne Hughes, whose classes have been participating since 2015. “It checks all the boxes.” 

To increase equity and food access for students and families with the greatest need, Foodwise prioritizes classes that have higher percentages of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students and students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

“Kids who grow up in the city are often picky eaters. No one is to blame,” says first-grade teacher Tina Yang. “In neighborhoods like the one we’re in, it’s harder to get access to farmers markets and fresh vegetables. Kids eat a lot of processed foods, like grab-and-go things. Parents and families deal with a fast-paced life.”

With kids leading the way, experiences like the family cook night can help inspire families to form new traditions, creating nourishing food and spending quality time together. “To sit here and cook for an hour and a half together, it’s a special moment,” Yang continues. “They’ll remember this forever.” 

Rojo hopes that through these experiences, students will continue to reflect on where their food comes and how it connects to their community. “I know the kids are really young, but I just hope that they feel empowered to be involved in food systems and care for one another through food.”

Help Grow Foodwise Kids & Families

Help us grow the Foodwise Kids & Families program, so we can offer free experiential food education to more Bay Area students and their families at the farmers market and in the classroom. Empower the next generation of healthy eaters with a donation today.

Families and teachers at Hillcrest Elementary School’s Foodwise Kids Family Cook Night.

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