Meet Our Team: Cindy Mendoza

May 28, 2020

In these times of social distancing, we would love for you to get to know our team better. Each week, we’re going to take you “behind the mask” with a different CUESA staff member, so that, even when our faces are covered, we won’t be strangers at the farmers market. This week, meet Cindy Mendoza, our Volunteer and Special Projects Coordinator. 

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

I was surrounded by good food growing up. My mom served great homemade meals, and my dad tended a summer backyard garden with lots of basil and herbs, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, ampalaya, saluyot, and other Filipino vegetables at our home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I remember them going to the market in the wee hours to get a deal on fish and the next morning, scaling and gutting them to put up in the freezer. Before “organic” was a thing, my dad would dig holes next to his garden plants and drop in fish guts as fertilizer, and we always composted our kitchen scraps. He learned this growing up in Ilocos Sur.

I had my own first farming experience at Maple Acres Farm selling produce and picking Silver Queen corn and zinnias. I loved the locally grown white peaches. This family farm is an oasis and one of the few green spaces remaining as suburban sprawl has taken over, and I always stop in to see Gary the farmer and buy produce when I visit home.

After a few years working with a nonprofit housing developer in Manhattan, the Green Tortoise bus brought me to San Francisco in 1997. Before joining the CUESA team, I worked with local nonprofits and volunteered as a Mission mural tour guide with San Francisco City Guides and served on the board of Asian Culinary Forum, which celebrates Asian cuisine and culture at events like the community-building Filipino Flavors.

I started as a volunteer with CUESA in 2005 helping on Saturday mornings with the cooking demos and supporting events like Sunday Supper. I’ve been selling produce with Heirloom Organic Gardens on Saturdays at Ferry Plaza since 2008 and joined the CUESA staff in 2013. As the Volunteer and Special Projects Coordinator, I manage the office, run the volunteer program and support our fundraising efforts including our special events Summer Bash, Sunday Supper and Cocktails of the Farmers Market. I appreciate the CUESA community from different perspectives. It’s a great community that we have!

How has your work changed since the pandemic?

Like so many organizations, CUESA has had to quickly adjust to the shelter in place orders. Our regular education programs and fundraising events are currently suspended. I held our first volunteer orientation online in March. Some of our newest volunteers have helped us pack and distribute our recently created produce boxes. They also keep the market safe at our handwashing stations. I help coordinate the box packing every other Saturday. We’re offering more online content to keep connected with our audiences at home, and I enjoyed making a video of a spring roll recipe using market ingredients. I’m also helping with more fundraising from our individual supporters and writing proposals for small grants.

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

Our restaurant and beverage partners have been a huge support for us, both in the market and at our fundraising events. Our event income used to support our education programs and operations throughout the year, but now our hospitality partners are suffering from the lockdown. This is why it’s important for our individual donors to support our farmers markets and help us safely relaunch our in-person education programs when the time is right. We saw a great outpouring of donations at the start of the pandemic and will need regular financial support. We will be developing our monthly giving program and rolling out other fundraising campaigns while we come up with new festive ways to engage with our audiences. We have a goal of raising $150,000 for our Save Your Farmers Market campaign and are about halfway there. Any leads for fundraising opportunities are welcome. We appreciate all your support to keep our food producers connected with our community.

What inspires or motivates you about your work at CUESA?

The people and community are the best parts of my work with CUESA. There’s always a farmer, shopper, chef, volunteer, fellow seller, and community partner to connect with. Our food producers work hard to bring amazing products to market through a lens of sustainability. It’s a joy to see more of the chefs coming back to the market as they are able to gradually reopen. I love how our shoppers and volunteers still continue to support us even with our adjusted activities and all the new market restrictions in place. I invited Yaeko of Laku to sell her handmade masks of cool vintage fabrics at our recently reopened Mission Community Market. It’s great to see the many ways that our community comes together for good food in a safe environment.

What do you do to recharge outside of work?

I take daily walks with my husband and the occasional socially distant bike ride with friends around town or to Ocean Beach on a sunny day. I appreciate the spring blooms, varied architecture, impromptu garage concerts, and hopeful messages in neighbors’ windows and in sidewalk chalk. I’ll wave to friends as we walk or bike by their homes. I’ve been cooking so much more lately and sometimes order takeout to support our local restaurants. It’s amazing how well we can eat and be outside in the Bay Area during this shelter in place.

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

Pastured eggs from Rolling Oaks or Capay Organic and all the greens we offer at Heirloom Organic Gardens. Since it’s hard to keep up with eating all of my produce in salads or other fresh preparations, I often make frittatas with beet and spring onion tops I’ve salvaged from customers who ask for them to be removed. I also love eating wilted mustard greens with fried egg, rice, sliced radishes, green onions, and Volcano kimchi for a quick breakfast. Growing up my mom would prepare the full Filipino silog breakfast on Saturday mornings with longanisa, and pangat na isda. Although it’s not that big nap-inducing meal, I like my veggie-forward mashup of this simple dish and bibimbap.