Foodwise Teens: How You Can Engage Youth in Our Local Food System

December 21, 2023

Foodwise Teens pose for  a photo at Frog Hollow Farm's stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Peaches and stone fruit are in the foreground.
Foodwise Teens summer fellows, including Henry Cruz (second to the left), at Frog Hollow Farm’s stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Like you, Foodwise believes that young people need opportunities to learn, connect, and participate in their local food community. When you donate to Foodwise, you help San Francisco teens become change agents for a sustainable, equitable, and nourishing food future.

Foodwise Teens is a paid youth development program offered at three SFUSD high schools over three progressive levels: Seed (fall), Grow (spring), Cultivate (summer). Students deepen their food knowledge and leadership skills through hands-on experiences working in the garden, in the kitchen, and at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Foodwise relies on the support of community members like you to compensate students, so they’re able to choose an after-school job that truly nourishes their whole selves.

You may have already met one of these students: Henry Cruz, an outgoing teen working at Frog Hollow Farm’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market stand on Saturdays. As a Foodwise Teen, Henry interned with Frog Hollow last summer and enjoyed it so much that he continued with them this fall. Participating in the program deepened his sense of connection to both the land and his San Francisco community, provided opportunities to practice his English skills, and boosted his confidence to take an active role in his local food system. 

In a speech at Foodwise Sunday Supper, Henry shared his journey from being shy to comfortable talking with new people at the farmers market, and why it is critical to invest in youth education, so that the next generation is prepared to take action for a healthy planet and food future.

Foodwise Teens posing for a photo with their handmade pie on a field trip to a local farm.

Getting Rooted in San Francisco Through Foodwise Teens

My name is Henry Cruz, and I’m a senior at John O’Connell High School in San Francisco’s Mission District. My family is from Guatemala. We moved to the Mission District when I was 12. I have been living here since. When I graduate next year, my plan is to go to college to major in electrical engineering.

Last year, I started participating in Foodwise Teens. I learned about the program from Christina Lopez, who works at the wellness center at my school. She told me to join Foodwise Teens because it was a paid internship, and it would look good on my resume. But I’ve learned that the program gives students much more than just something to add to their resume.

Growing up in Guatemala, my family grew our own food. So when I started working in the school garden, I already knew what I was doing. But I had never gardened in San Francisco. It felt good, and I got to learn about different plants. Shoutout to Mr. Wood for helping us take care of the garden!

We learned about cooking, too. I wasn’t really interested in cooking at first, but since we started doing it, I’ve been liking it. I’m learning things that I didn’t know. I remember that a chef came to the school and we made pasta from scratch. I hope to cook for myself more, since it’s a good skill to have and one way to stay healthy.

Foodwise Teen, Henry, leans over a table full of stone fruit to talk to shoppers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Learning and Growing at the Farmers Market

Going to the farmers market, I also learned a lot. I learned what a sweet potato was. I learned the names of different fruits and vegetables. In my school, they don’t really teach us that. I still don’t know all of them, but I’m learning.

This summer, I was working with Frog Hollow Farm in the farmers market. My eating has gotten better. The taste of the fruit from the market is WAY better. If you get a peach from the grocery store, it’s not going to taste as juicy as the one from the farmers market. You have to eat the peach over the sink because it’s juicy and sweet. 

I learned there are different kinds of peaches, too. There’s one called Cal Red, and there’s another one called O’Henry (like me :-). Those two peaches are my favorite.

I liked working at the farmers market. You get to talk to a lot of people and hear their stories. And the time goes fast. You’re bringing people fresh food, which is nice.

When I came to the US, I went to a middle school where I didn’t really get to practice English. Then in my freshman year, we were all on Zoom. So when I joined Foodwise Teens in my sophomore year, I didn’t really speak a lot of English. And I wouldn’t talk to anyone. 

Joining Foodwise Teens helped me to practice my English. I am now able to have a conversation with someone I don’t know. I wasn’t able to do that in my sophomore year. At first I didn’t feel safe, but now I do.

Foodwise Teen, Henry, poses with a group of Foodwise Kids visiting the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Tables of citrus and other fruit are in the background.

Calling for More Food Leadership Opportunities for Youth

This summer I worked with Foodwise. I lead field trips in the farmers market with the elementary school kids. I learned that working with little kids is NOT for me! It’s hard to get their attention. But I felt good teaching them, and it was fun giving them fruit to taste.

It’s important to get kids excited about the farmers market, so that they know what good food is, where it comes from, and where they can buy it. Because kids ARE our future. 

In the farmers market, you don’t always see a lot of teens or kids. It’s mostly adults. Sometimes older people seem to care more about the future than the kids do. But young people just need more opportunities to learn because this is OUR planet. 

Someday, we’re going to be the older generation, and we’re going to be in charge. So we have to learn how to take care of the planet now.

We need opportunities to learn in after school programs, in the kitchen, and in the school garden. Just like I did in Foodwise Teens. I hope you’ll help more kids and teens have these experiences, too. Thank you for listening to me and for caring. We need that!

Foodwise Teens pose for a group photo at a local farm during a field trip.

Invest in Foodwise Teens

Join Foodwise in offering opportunities for San Francisco teens like Henry nurture their health and leadership skills while participating in our farmers market community. Help us reach our end of year goal of $60,000, and donate today to nourish the generation in 2024 and beyond.

Topics: , , ,