Foodwise Teens Summer Fellows Plant Seeds of Leadership

Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
August 25, 2022

In the middle of July, past silent classrooms and vacant hallways, five high school students could be found tending to their school garden: checking compost pile temperatures, watering their crops, and harvesting abundant greens and peak-summer cucumbers, while making room for new growth. 

Following their participation in the semester-long Foodwise Teens program, 20 SFUSD students deepened their experience this summer by participating in the Foodwise Teens Summer Fellowship, a paid summer job placement program. Students embraced their roles in a sustainable food system by supporting local farmers and the Foodwise market operations team, teaching younger students in our Foodwise Kids program, or caring for their school garden.

During fall and spring semesters, Foodwise Teens learn about food justice, get some experience cooking and growing food, and get their feet wet working a couple days in the farmers market. The summer fellowship is an opportunity for program graduates to develop leadership skills and put them into practice in real-life work settings and their local food community over the course of eight weeks. 

Supporting Farmers, Sharing Food Knowledge

This summer, five Foodwise Teens fellows worked directly with farmers at their booths at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. While the farmers benefit from the extra help, Foodwise Teens practice their communication skills and connect with their community in a whole new way.

Brenda Alvarez, a recent graduate of John O’Connell High School, worked at Oya Organics at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays. After completing culinary training throughout high school and deepening her food knowledge through Foodwise Teens, she was excited to put her skills to use at the farmers market. 

When customers had questions about how to use different ingredients available at the stand, Brenda enjoyed being able to share what she knew. “One time people were asking about pápalo [a Mexican herb] and I was able to tell them, ‘Oh, you can just eat it in a salad or add it to sandwiches,’” Brenda says. “I pushed myself to the point where I feel confident speaking to any amount of people and also communicating professionally through emails or texts.”

Making a sweet full-circle connection, Brenda worked closely with Luz Garcia-Kegel, a 2021 Foodwise Teens fellow who still works with Oya Organics a year later. “It was great getting to work with Brenda and seeing her again after so long (we actually went to middle school together!). She was shy at first when it came to working the register, but she got it down pretty quick.”

Being a Market Ambassador

At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Info Booth on Saturdays, another fellow was greeting shoppers. Working with the market operations team and helping with the Veggie Valet, Margaux Garcia, a student at Mission High School, got a behind-the-scenes look at what makes farmers markets function, while making the market more accessible for her community. 

“Two ways I’ve grown professionally are being able to communicate and socialize with the customers, and I learned how to approach people around me and to ask and answer questions,” she says. “I’ve learned to value the meaning of the foods that are served to me, learning all the history, the care people had for it.”

Extending her experience beyond the summer fellowship, Marguaux is now joining the Foodwise operations team as a part-time employee this fall. “Margaux is really detail oriented, works hard, and is really easy to work with,” says Lulu Meyer, Director of Education. “We had a couple team members leaving us to go to college this fall, so we were glad to be able to offer her a position to continue working with us. ”

Teens Mentoring Kids

John O’Connell student Salvador Mejia spent summer mornings guiding summer camp groups of kids around the farmers market for Foodwise’s other youth program, Foodwise Kids. Going into the summer fellowship, Sal was wary of leading groups of kids, and found himself “coming out of my comfort zone.” By the end of the two months, he was proud to report, “Two teachers told me I did a good job.” 

“Initially Sal was quite timid and unsure of how to engage our students, but by the end of the summer, he had gained so much confidence and improved in his communication and engagement that he was able to lead his own small group and teach kids about local fresh and seasonal produce,” says Nesley Rojo, Foodwise Kids & Families Education Manager. “It was so rewarding to watch him come out of his shell and feel confident not only in working with students but also supporting program tasks and interacting with other vendors, volunteers and staff!”

She continues, “I think kids really look up to teens and it’s so special to be able to lead a field trip with the support of teen mentors who have a special way of relating to our students and making them feel comfortable while keeping the field trip educational and fun!”

Growing Gardens, Growing Wisdom

Back at the school garden, Xitlalli (who also goes by “Lalli”) Noemi Solis-Hernandez, a student at The Academy – San Francisco @ McAteer, deepened her knowledge of the plants around her by spending her summer as a garden fellow. “I feel proud of my improvement over these last eight weeks in knowing the herbs, vegetables, and fruit that grow in our garden at John O’Connell, which range from rosemary, calendula, persimmons, tomatoes, and Thai basil,” she says. 

After a summer of connecting with their community at the farmers market, sharing their food knowledge with shoppers and kids, and nurturing the abundance of nature in the garden, Foodwise Teens fellows return to school this month. Navigating bustling hallways to find their seat among classmates, they carry with them newfound wisdom, leadership, and confidence, empowered to affect change in our food system and beyond. 

Help Foodwise provide rich learning experiences for teens in the farmers market, in the classroom, and wherever they are this fall by donating now to our Back to School, Back to the Farmers Market campaign! We need your support to reach our $25,000 goal by the end of August.

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