Meet Our Team: amy huỳnh

December 8, 2021

Last year, we started taking you “behind the mask” with each CUESA staff member. Now, we want you to meet one of the newest members of our team, amy huỳnh, who joined us this summer as the Education Manager for Foodwise Teens, a paid job training program where teens build skills to sustain healthy lives and a healthy planet, and our adult education programs.

Tell us a bit about you and your history and role at CUESA. 

My name is amy huỳnh and I am the new Education Manager of Foodwise Teens and Adult Programming at CUESA. I grew up in the belly of the San Gabriel Valley, with the dry spells of Southern California incubating my love for the heat and, now, appreciation for the climate’s ability to nurture the tropical plants from my family’s homeland of Việt Nam. For my ma, gardening was her way of reconnecting to the motherland and my childhood memories of our small backyard are of it bursting with ổi (guava), táo tàu (jujubes) and ớt (bird’s eye chili peppers). I went to school at Cal, where I was given words to describe injustices such as food apartheid and redlining, and feel grateful to be back in the Bay Area—a place where there is deep work being done around changing our current broken food system to one more dignified and equitable. Previous to CUESA, I was an outdoor educator in Washington and California and previous to that, I spent time as a community youth organizer in Philadelphia with a grassroots community organization called VietLead and the Resilient Roots Community Farm. I come to CUESA with a deep belief in ancestral wisdom, intergenerational learning + responsibility, and food/plants as medicine. I am excited to bring what I offer to CUESA and learn from all of my amazing colleagues (and you all!) as well.

What does your work look like in action? 

I manage 3 adult interns and 51 Foodwise Teens in our 10-week job training program for high school students focused around cooking, gardening, and food justice. We run our 2.5-hour-long weekly training sessions at Mission High, John O’Connell, and Academy @ McAteer. Therefore, I am teaching three times a week. On Saturdays, we have 8 Foodwise Teens working the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and collectively cooking their lunch for each other (we most recently made butternut squash tacos with cashew crema!). I am literally running about town, probably balancing some seedlings in one hand while riding the BART to the 16th Street station. I am on a Zoom call with the Florence Fang Community Garden in the Bayview to deepen our partnership with them. I am working with Cameron, Academy’s second year FoodCorps Member, to develop a new curriculum around SFUSD food waste and action. I am checking in with Kai, Yolanda, and Destini—Foodwise Teens’ wonderful adult interns—about following up with students about attendance, forms, and paid assignments. Facilitation is a practiced skill, so the adult interns and I are running through the week’s curriculum over Google Meets and we each offer feedback. I am writing a TON of emails. I am calling Saeeda, our wonderful SFUSD liaison and CUESA Board Member, for programmatic advice. I am always on the move and am always learning in this incredibly dynamic position that I am blessed to serve in.

What inspires or motivates you about your work? Or what do you love or enjoy most?

I am always so humbled by this work with the students. While the Foodwise Teens team facilitates conversations about food justice and food systems with the high school students, the teens definitely teach us to be in deeper touch with our joy, creativity, and honesty. Whether it’s on a field trip, looking for mushrooms (the fruit of the fungal body) to throw to a new spot to support in spreading its mycelium network, or a simple lesson on watering the garden or making pizza, the students are committed to wholeheartedly expressing their curiosities (and boredom) without fear or hesitation. It is inspiring and quite humbling.

I am incredibly grateful for the alignment of the work to my values as well. Not only do I get to continue to build upon my plant cultivation skills, but I get to expand my knowledge in diasporic cooking & food justice pedagogy. I will soon be giving more thought to adult education and my colleagues at CUESA are wonderfully thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable. I’m blessed!

However, most rewarding, for me, is getting to know the students and their interests and aspirations. Some students have shared their presentations on Queer Hxstory with me, spoken to us about their dream to run a food truck, given a speech on why pronouns matter, or explained their interest in training as a doula…and I am so inspired. Young people consistently push the bar for all of us to be better, and I am so grateful and blessed for their trust in being a part of their food journey.

What’s a challenging part of your job, or something that you wish people understood better?

Foodwise Teens is committed to deconstructing oppressive systems in our food systems to collectively cultivate a dignified food system centered around reciprocal relationships with each other and the natural world. To embark on this liberating food journey, we must first heal ourselves and the land. A big piece of Foodwise Teens—that I am learning in my first 3 months on the job—is then the need for intentional and deep socioemotional learning that centers around a deep sense of belonging, respect, and self-worth. Being in the garden supports this. Learning to trust each other through cooking together deepens this. Interacting with encouraging and kind folks at the farmers market encourages this. Cultivating an intentional community within 10 weeks where students feel valued, encouraged to be their most authentic selves, and have the agency to move towards positive action is not easy, but is a goal that we are constantly striving towards.

What do you do to recharge outside of work? 

I am one of those people with far too many hobbies. I love foraging wild plants and identifying mushrooms with friends while we’re hiking or volunteering at a community farm. I feel so at home cooking with other people—that is a love language for me. I believe cooking is an inherently intimate act filled with storytelling and nourishment. Dancing, whether it be salsa or house dance, is liberating to me. Truthfully, out on the land and dancing is oftentimes when I feel the most free. I feel so lucky that I get to feel free with my students when we are out at the gardens. A hobby of my younger self that I am picking back up is reading and writing more. If you ever see me at the market, please feel free to share with me your favorite book or author who has had you thinking recently!

Do you have any favorite farmers market foods or tips you can share? 

I didn’t grow up with farmer markets, but my mom did—they called them wet markets in Việt Nam. Going back to Việt Nam with her was amazing. I saw her light up as she walked the chợ, talking to vendors about recipes and chatting with fellow shoppers about which stalls had the best prices. I love farmer markets because, just like the markets in the homeland, they center relationships and community. It’s been wonderful to wander through the markets and say hi to familiar faces. My main tip? Strike up that conversation and maybe meet a new friend!

As someone whose family benefitted from EBT and who used it in their adult life as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I am thankful for CUESA’s ongoing effort to make the farmers market a more economically accessible experience for all through the Market Match program. We all deserve life-affirming, nutrient-dense foods whose source we know and understand. So, if you didn’t already know—EBT users get up to $15 matched to use on fruits and vegetables.

Of course, I’m not going to let this opportunity to plug the Foodwise Teen’s public education table at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market either! The last few weeks, we showcased kohlrabi, a cousin to the radish. Each market day, the students prepared a delicious and simple recipe using a seasonal ingredient and exchanged knowledge with the public about it. We just finished the fall semester, but we’ll be back in February. Swing by and say hi!

Is there anything else you would like our community to know?

Young people are our future and have an immense amount to contribute, if you let them! I am a huge fan of intergenerational learning—we each have so much to contribute having walked our unique paths of life. Therefore, a big part of Foodwise Teens is understanding that we all have knowledge to contribute to the room—not just the adults. Foodwise Teens is not interested in a “banking” model of learning where knowledge is transferred from a traditional teacher to a traditional student. Instead, we are interested in Paulo Friere’s popular education model, which adamantly believes that we all have something to teach each other as well as learn from each other. Talk to a young person. Offer opportunities—connect them to the network you know. Learn where they come from and what their aspirations and questions are. They will teach you a lot. I know they’ve taught me loads.

Learn more about Foodwise Teens.