Foodwise Kids Goes Beyond the Farmers Market and into the Classroom

Abbi Sanders, Foodwise Intern
April 29, 2022

Bright and early on a spring morning at Bret Harte Elementary School, Foodwise educators begin to heat up the electric griddle, lay out the tortilla presses, and wash bunches of kale. A class of fourth- and fifth-grade students trickle in from recess with giggles and anticipation. As they break up into groups, each student receives a kid-safe knife and cutting board. The Foodwise team begins the cooking lesson, and then the kids get a chance to try out their new skills by making a meal together. 

These students are building on their experiences visiting the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on a Foodwise Kids field trip just one week earlier. Now, Foodwise is deepening that experience by taking the cooking lesson to them in the classroom. 

A Foundational Trip to the Farmers Market

Over the past decade, Foodwise Kids has hosted free field trips to help thousands of San Francisco Unified School District students discover the joys of fresh, local food. The children arrive at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with eagerness and excitement, and it is Foodwise’s job to feed their natural curiosity. It is also a time where they get to collaborate with their peers, voting on whether they should try arugula or spinach, strawberries or oranges. While they are shopping at the market, they talk to the farmers who harvested their food, learning first hand where their food comes from and how it gets to their plates.

As a way to accommodate distance learning, Foodwise also offers a virtual version of this field trip. Through Zoom, the class engages in a lesson about seasonality, variety, and participates in a guessing game. It is followed by a brief tasting, where the students get to try farmers market produce that was dropped off at their classroom by the Foodwise staff. 

In both versions of the field trip, the students are encouraged to taste with all five senses and notice the complexity of flavors. The purpose of this introductory class is to facilitate a safe and engaging space for children to try fresh produce, and provide them with resources to take with them into their lives. Students take home a map of farmers markets in the Bay Area and are introduced to programs like CalFresh and Market Match, which help families stretch their fresh food dollars at the farmers market. 

Building Cooking Skills in the Classroom

Starting in fall 2021, the Foodwise Kids program expanded from a one-time farmers market field trip to hands-on experiences that engage students, their families, and their teachers in cooking and enjoying fresh food at their schools. These recent additions include hands-on cooking classes in the classroom and Family Cook Nights. 

Tiffany Chung, Foodwise Director of Education, explains that the inspiration behind Foodwise Kids is to “create more open mindedness and curiosity around eating.” A key part of this process is “encouraging students to be willing to try new things. We want the children to know that it is okay if they do not love everything, but still be open to trying new foods. We also want to expand the students’ general understanding and appreciation of where food comes from.” 

The classroom cooking lesson provides students an opportunity to see the evolution of seasonal vegetables from their raw, freshly harvested state at the market into a meal that was chopped, seasoned, and cooked by them. The Family Cook Night is the third experience, which bridges what students have learned during the field trip and cooking class, and gets their families engaged as well, while fostering community and encouraging curiosity in the kitchen. 

These new elements of the program are supported by a Specialty Block Crop Grant provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. All ingredients for Foodwise Kids & Families are exclusively sourced from California farmers, and the program provides resources to support students and families in integrating local and seasonal produce into their diets. 

While cooking classes are still being hosted on a limited basis, Foodwise prioritizes schools where over 80% of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, as well as schools that have higher percentages of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students, groups who statistically have less access to fresh, local produce. 

Building Kitchen Confidence in Community

Back at Bret Harte Elementary, students are busy prepping their meal, and as one of the Foodwise Interns, I am there to assist them. After the garlic is all minced, onions chopped, kale torn, and squash cubed, the children get a chance to hand-press tortillas and saute their vegetables. 

As they fill their plates and get ready to eat, Foodwise Kids & Families Coordinator Damaris Bonner offers gentle encouragement: “We’re just trying it. You don’t have to like everything you eat. Just try to keep an open mind. This is for the experience. Y’all made this together as a group, as a community, so let’s just give it a try.” 

While the children eat their creations, I ask them what their favorite part of the day was. Many of them emphasize how much they enjoyed cutting the produce, especially onions, as well as pressing the tortillas and seasoning the squash. 

Instilling kids with confidence that they are capable of creating nutritious and delicious meals for themselves and their families can help them to make healthy choices for the rest of their lives. Encouraging little ones to get into the kitchen can invigorate their comfortability with fresh food, excitement in trying new recipes, and appreciation for where their meals come from.

Teacher Sophia Mackey from Bret Harte Elementary explained to me that the students “come from a food-forward culture, so any additional hands-on experience is always positive.” They noted the broad range of cooking experience that each student brings to the table: “Some kids are in charge of making food for their families, and some do not have any responsibilities so they need more practice.” 

This cooking class was a happy medium for all sides of the spectrum because Foodwise Kids offers a lighthearted cooking space where the kids who cook all the time can simply enjoy themselves, and exposes kids just beginning their cooking journeys to basic skills, so they can get more comfortable in the kitchen. 

Support Foodwise Kids with a donation today. If you’re a SFUSD teacher, learn more and sign up for Foodwise Kids here.

Photos by Foodwise and Elisa Szeto.

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