Grow the World You Want to See: Empower Youth

December 17, 2015

Like you, we at CUESA want to see a world where the next generation is inspired to make healthy choices and change the food system for the better. How does your donation to CUESA help realize that vision? Throughout December, we’re sharing real stories from our community that show the impact of your donations to CUESA.

This week, meet Cameron Collier, a 15-year-old sophomore at Life Learning Academy, a SFUSD charter high school serving youth who have been involved in the juvenile justice system or who have faced other life challenges. Cameron participated in CUESA’s semester-long Schoolyard to Market gardening and youth entrepreneurship program last spring and again this fall.

I invited Cameron to take the class because I felt he had a naturally professional demeanor, but he really kept to himself,” says Cameron’s garden teacher, Karuna Holm. “After Schoolyard to Market, he is more comfortable sharing what he knows, and he realizes that what he has to say is of value. It’s definitely a result of him working at the farmers market and being a mentor for younger students this semester in the school garden. His work with CUESA also helps put him in a position to become a mentor in his new job, where he’s helping start a recording studio for youth in East Oakland.”

We spoke with Cameron about the impact of Schoolyard to Market on his personal growth and health.

Connecting with Nature

I transferred to Life Learning Academy last year in October. Back at my old school, my grades and general motivation were extremely low, and I found myself falling behind. Life Learning Academy has helped me get more engaged through programs like Schoolyard to Market.

I came out of the course with a lot of new skills, like learning how to garden and growing my own food. My favorite activity in the garden was harvesting and feeling good knowing the food would be put to good use. It was a nice change of pace being outdoors compared to being cooped up inside, reading from textbooks or doing worksheets. The hands-on experience of being in the garden helped me learn and remember things better because I was doing the work myself.

Learning about different ways to farm was also interesting. The farm visits were pretty cool because we were able to witness the whole process for how things are made, like going to a dairy farm and tasting fresh cheese, or trying fruit from the trees at the apple farm.

Growing Confidence

I sold produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market three times with Life Learning Academy and found that working at the market really helped me come out of my shell. I didn’t used to care about my social skills, and when it did come time to talk in front of people, or even one person, I wouldn’t know exactly what to do. But I learned that there was a different side to me when I was working at the farmers market. I did actually have the ability to talk to people. I just never felt the need to use it until now.

After working in the garden and at the market, I’m more conscious of nutrition and the things I put inside my body. I used to frequently eat fast food, but learning about what’s actually going into your body when you eat those foods, it scares you a little bit! So I’ve started eating more fresh foods that I help prepare in the school’s culinary program for lunch.

Lessons for Life

Schoolyard to Market was a really great program for learning about food and agriculture and building life skills. One of the students in my class became vegetarian because he felt that it’s a healthier lifestyle. He’s also in the culinary program, preparing the vegetarian meals. I’ve even heard that the quality of the vegetarian meals has increased, because someone who actually cares about that way of eating is preparing the food.

For me, the program was an opportunity to develop communication skills and business experience, learning what different people want and how they want to be approached. At the end of the day, I will remember that Schoolyard to Market helped me gain very important skills and build connections with a different group of people. My attitude toward work has definitely changed, too. My perspective on it now is that, while it’s a thing that you need to do, it can also be fun.

A gift to CUESA helps youth like Cameron gain food systems knowledge and job skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Make a tax-deductible donation today.


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