Foodwise Teens Cultivates Youth Change Makers for a Sustainable Future
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
August 24, 2023
Bright and early at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a cohort of high school students giddily buzz around the Foodwise kitchen. They’re shaping mounds of fresh pasta dough, sauteing aromatic alliums for a sauce base, and working together every step of the way to prepare for their public cooking demonstration in the afternoon. For the past six weeks, they’ve been learning about their local food system and honing their culinary and leadership skills in the Foodwise Teens program. Now, they’re ready to take action.
In the past year, Foodwise educators have worked to refine the paid youth development program to meet the needs of San Francisco high school students as they readjust after the pandemic. From learning about food justice to exploring careers in the food world, Foodwise Teens supports young people in their journey to become change makers for a sustainable future.
Seeding Food Wisdom
Offered at three SFUSD high schools, the Foodwise Teens program is now broken down into three progressive levels, taking place in the fall, spring, and summer for 8 to 10 weeks each. During the first semester, Seed, students build their foundational food knowledge and learn about food justice and sustainability.
“Level one is really about helping them to understand that ‘You can like produce. It’s accessible. This is who the farmer is.’ It gets those gears moving and allows them to understand what food systems are like in San Francisco and the Bay Area,” says Foodwise Teens Education Manager Jasmine Chastine.
During the program orientation, students tour the farmers market and meet local farmers. As the semester progresses, they spend time in the garden and at the market learning about nutrition and food, and meet Bay Area food professionals to place the lessons in a real life context.
This year, students learned about land stewardship during visits to Florence Fang Community Farm, Sisterhood Gardens, and Pie Ranch. They also explored food career pathways by meeting co-owners of Rainbow Grocery, a co-owner of the restaurant Shuggie’s, and representatives of Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science at UCSF.
Growing Leadership Skills
With a 95% retention rate throughout the program, many Foodwise Teens participants choose to build on what they learned during the first semester by continuing on to the next level, called Grow. These returning students deepen their learning and develop their leadership style, while mentoring other students who are new to the program.
“I think the biggest change has been focusing on teen-led activities,” says Jasmine. During Grow, teens expand on their learning by taking action in their community. This year, participants took on a bigger group project: the live cooking demo at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
As students continue to resocialize after the isolation of the pandemic, such experiences can be especially transformative. “So many teens have lost that time of understanding social cues and appropriate conversations, and learning to have adaptability in certain environments,” says Jasmine.
Leading up to the demo, they worked together to develop a recipe, hone their culinary skills, promote the event amongst their peers, and practice teaching an in-person audience. “They had to create a production, similar to doing theater,” explains Jasmine. “This allowed them to not only work as a team, but also work on their public speaking and try to lessen that anxiety that they may have.”
“Making actual pasta from the start, instead of just having hard pasta from the grocery store, tasted so much better,” says Rogelyn Novicio from Mission High School, who co-led the demo. ”I really liked the cooking demonstration. It was kind of like a bonding experience for all of us.”
Cultivating a Positive Impact
After participating in Seed and Grow during the school year, 18 teens chose to participate in the third level of Foodwise Teens, Cultivate, during the summer. Students accept job placements in their community, putting the food knowledge they learned in Seed and interpersonal skills they learned in Grow into practice.
The summer program is an opportunity for students to develop professionally and make an impact, while receiving mentorship and coaching. Placements range from working with Foodwise’s farmers market operations team, assisting farmers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, teaching younger students in the Foodwise Kids program, and stewarding their school gardens and sharpening their culinary skills.
Mission High School junior Lucia Delarious Moran led Foodwise Kids summer camps on field trips at the farmers market and taught them basic knife skills. “I’ve really used the things I’ve learned with Foodwise and taken it home with me to help my mom and my sister cook at home,” she shares.
Kimberly Luo Kuang, senior at The Academy – San Francisco @ McAteer, says she most enjoyed meeting new people while working with the Foodwise market operations team. She’s especially proud of herself for speaking up with more confidence: “I’m an introverted person and this program made me talk more than I normally do.”
Recent Mission High School graduate Zayna Hayter spent the summer working at Frog Hollow Farm’s stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Zayna says, “I’ve become more open to foods I haven’t tried before or that look different from what I’m used to.”
While working at Ramini Mozzarella this summer, Shane Solis, Mission High School sophomore, says that he enjoyed getting to know regular shoppers: “It was fun learning and talking with people to help them. [I’m proud] that I tried speaking to people and didn’t let the vendor do all the work.”
Pouring into the Next Generation of Food and Climate Leaders
Through all of these experiences, students start to claim their place as change makers. “On the very basic level, I just see them socialize more. I’m happy to see them enjoying themselves, building community, and chatting and laughing with each other,” Jasmine says. “And on a heightened level, I see them taking leadership in their food system.”
As students prepare for independent lives as young adults with their own decision-making autonomy and purchasing power, these opportunities help equip them with tools to make a difference in the world. “If we want to do anything about climate change, if we want to do anything that positively affects our environment, we have to invest in youth,” says Jasmine.
“Don’t count them out,” she continues. “We’ve all been teenagers. We’ve all been angsty. We’ve all experienced these things. But they are growing up in a different world than we did. They’ve always had technology. They went through a pandemic. Higher education is more expensive than ever before. We have to show them some grace. But they’re capable. Pour into young people because they’re going to be the ones that need to be prepared for the world.”
Help Foodwise provide rich learning and job experiences for San Francisco teens by contributing to our Back to School, Back to the Farmers Market campaign. We’re over halfway to our $30,000 goal, and we need your support to reach it by August 31. Donate now.