Foodwise Teens Find Jobs with Local Farmers at the Market

Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
February 18, 2022

When you visit the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, you are often greeted by the familiar faces of your favorite farmers and vendors. But they wouldn’t be able to show up and bring their fresh food to you without dedicated market workers. Local high school students are now stepping up to fill some of those important job roles at the farmers market. 

Following her participation in CUESA’s Foodwise Teens program, Luzaneth Garcia-Kegel is one of several students who landed a part-time job at the farmers market last fall. A senior at the Academy – San Francisco @ McAteer, Luzaneth now works for Oya Organics on Saturdays. “I usually get there around 7:30, help unload the vegetables, set up the tent, and fix up the tables by putting on the tablecloth,” she says. “I help arrange the vegetables at the front, and then I end up cashiering for the rest of the day. After the day is over, we pack up everything and load it up.”

As skilled workers who value sustainability and food justice, these young people are putting their Foodwise Teens skills to use and building their resume, while contributing to a thriving local food community.

Taking on Responsibility and Earning Independence 

During their participation in the semester-long Foodwise Teens program, students get a taste of working in the farmers market for a couple Saturdays, supporting CUESA’s market operations and education programs. Some students extend the experience by participating in a summer fellowship, where they deepen their work in the market or school garden.

Following her participation in the Foodwise Teens program and fellowship last year, Luzaneth decided to continue working at Oya Organics to save money and refine her customer service skills. “For a while, talking would make me a little bit nervous, especially with people I didn’t know,” says Luzaneth, “That’s a skill that I can use now. I’m trying to be more open to new experiences.” 

Luzaneth’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by her bosses. Oya Organics, an organic farm in Hollister, is owned by Marsha Habib and Modesto Sanchez Cruz. Marsha says, “Luzaneth learned really quickly and has come out of her shell while working with customers and market visitors. She has learned about the different vegetables as we bring new crops to the market. She’s getting to learn about each one, how it’s grown and harvested, and how to cook it. It’s been wonderful to have her working with us.”

Luzaneth credits Modesto for creating an empowering work environment at the market. “He’s really cool and he gives me quite a bit of freedom when it comes to what I do. Obviously, I still have to listen to what his expectations are.” 

Now a high school senior, she also appreciates the sense of financial stability she has earned. “I make my own money. I also pay my own phone bill. So, it’s definitely made me more independent.” Looking to the future, she adds, “I want to go into culinary, and being in the market, I’ve learned a lot of new recipes. It basically solidified that I want to go into culinary because when customers and vendors tell me their recipes, it sounds delicious.”

Developing Communications Skills and Building Perseverance 

Working at the school garden during the Foodwise Teens program encouraged John O’Connell High School student Devin Lee to develop a resilient work ethic. “I never really did manual labor in my life. Working in the garden was such a hard experience, but I didn’t want to give up,” he says.

He also developed pride in seeing the fruits of his labor. “Where we worked in the garden is actually my school. And I’m so proud of it. Every time I pass by, I say, ‘Oh look, this is what I grew!’ And my friends just roll their eyes, but I’m still really proud of it,” he recalls. 

When working in the school garden and in the farmers market as a Foodwise Teen, Devin learned to practice teamwork, and found ways to open up and express himself with confidence. He reflects, “Through talking with different people, I was able to develop more communication skills to better iterate my feelings and talk about things that I wanted to talk about too, rather than just being shy in the background.” 

Now a sophomore, he continues to cultivate those skills while working for McGinnis Ranch, an organic farm in Watsonville run by Sandi McGinnis-Garcia and Sara Evett. His positive work ethic and open communication have enhanced McGinnis Ranch’s market operations. 

“Devin has been immensely helpful while working at the market with me,” says Sara. “He has an honest interest in food and where it comes from, and always has new questions about how crops are grown and different ways to prepare them, which is so great to see in students and younger people. He’s reliable and dependable, and it’s great having him on Saturdays.”

Committing to Showing Up and Sharing Food Knowledge

Students come out of Foodwise Teens with a deeper curiosity about where their food comes from and an increased awareness of their role in a sustainable food system. “Before working with Foodwise Teens, I wouldn’t really pay attention to how my food was grown,” says Mission High School graduate Erika Torres. “After I was able to be part of the program, I put more thought into whatever I’m consuming.” 

Now a freshman at community college, Erika works at the market on Saturdays at Nana Joes Granola, which offers granola made with fresh and locally grown ingredients. She sets up the market stand and uses her food knowledge to help customers. 

Founder and owner of Nana Joes Granola Michelle Pusateri says, “Erika is amazing and we are so grateful to have someone on our team who is familiar with the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. This makes it so much easier for her to connect with our customers and other vendors. Also, having knowledge on why whole food ingredients matter and how to cook really great nutritious meals helps her to sell our granola.”

Alongside her marketing talents, Erika recalls how practices she developed in Foodwise Teens come into play in her new role, such as “having that commitment to showing up, giving it your all, and always keeping an open mind.” These principles make Erika a valuable member of Nana Joes’ team, and capture the can-do spirit of Foodwise Teens in the farmers market community. 

Find Oya Organics, McGinnis Ranch, and Nana Joes Granola at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays. Help CUESA grow Foodwise Teens and students’ job readiness with a gift to CUESA today.

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