Meet Our Team: Tessa Kappe

July 30, 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 our Education Manager Tessa Kappe. 

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

I came to CUESA five years ago with a background in nonprofit garden education at public schools, excited to make a greater impact through CUESA as a well-established organization. My role has always focused on our youth education programs, Foodwise Kids, Foodwise Teens (formerly Schoolyard to Market), and Foodwise Families. I ran the Food Shed at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for several years, and have supported a variety of fundraising events and other educational programming. I spent four years managing Foodwise Kids, a joyful, hands-on cooking field trip at the farmers market for public elementary students. During that time, we doubled the number of students to 2,500 annually, expanded to year round operations by hosting community groups over the summer, and shifted our focus to serving the district’s most historically underserved students. 

Through Schoolyard to Market and Foodwise Teens, I led trainings at multiple high schools in the Bay Area, collaborated with school and community partners, welcomed speakers from the farmers market and broader food community, organized garden harvests and farmers market sales days, and led field trips and farm tours for teens. I managed the garden and taught at John O’Connell High School for five years as the “garden lady” (what the students called me), and at Mission High School for the past two. I directed lively volunteer garden workdays with my colleague Cindy Mendoza and co-developed the Foodwise Teens curriculum with former Education Director Leigh Gaymon-Jones, a paid after-school internship for youth to explore food justice and cultivate work and life skills through growing, cooking, and selling food farmers markets. We also built in paid leadership opportunities for Foodwise Teens through the Summer Fellows program, where teens act as mentors for the younger Foodwise Kids participants.

Most recently my focus has been on writing grants and growing partnerships with school district, government, and community agencies to establish long-term support for Foodwise Teens and CUESA as a significant operator of youth education, now in our tenth year of programs. 

How has your work changed since the pandemic?

My work has changed tremendously since the pandemic! Instead of running around the city leading teenagers in gardens and kitchens and managing all the ins and outs of typical programming, all of that has been placed on pause. I have been working limited hours and from home since mid-March, writing grants and supporting the translation of our programs to distance learning. We have been quickly adapting to teaching hands-on skills such as gardening and cooking remotely, exploring best practices, and engaging former interns and staff to develop videos and distance-learning models of current programs. We are working to be mindful of equity in designing remote programs as we know students have varied circumstances and access to resources.

Over the past months, I’ve also established a new partnership with Mayor London Breed’s Opportunities for All (OFA) initiative, aimed at connecting young people of all backgrounds to paid employment, job training, and mentorship opportunities. Through OFA, four Foodwise Teens participated in paid internships working with CUESA’s Farmers Market Box project and operations team this summer. I am thrilled that two of the teens I worked with directly at John O’Connell High School were offered permanent part-time positions on CUESA’s operations staff, and will continue with us into the fall. It’s exciting to see these pipelines to work opportunities strengthening and the increased support for this work! I’m grateful to my colleagues Lulu and Andrea for providing such valuable mentorship and growth opportunities for youth. 

What’s something that you wish people understood better about your work?

Having a lot on your plate at a nonprofit organization can be tough, especially when you care about what you do. CUESA is putting careful consideration into rebuilding our education programs in a way that will be sustainable for our staff and the organization as a whole. It really does take a lot to run programs like Foodwise Kids, Foodwise Teens and Foodwise Families, and we are grateful for everyone’s support who believes in and contributes to their success. It’s been a privilege to be a part of the fabric of support for our city’s youth as well as the responsible stewardship of our land, and I respect and appreciate everyone dedicated to these goals. There is an enormous gap between the haves and have-nots in San Francisco, and I am grateful to CUESA for its increasing commitment to equity across all sectors of our work. Additionally, if anyone has any opportunities to extend to a young person right now, I’d encourage you to consider it!

What inspires or motivates you about your work at CUESA? 

My favorite part of my job has been when I get to spend time with young people in nature, whether in a school garden, on an urban hike or at a local farm. For many youth, farm field trips were their first time out of the city and surrounded by nature. To see students go from being hesitant to step foot in a garden to embracing that space as a place their own, one of comfort and empowerment and happiness, has been most meaningful to me. 

The farmers market itself is also an intoxicatingly beautiful place to be. It’s been special to cook and eat food knowing who grew it and where, and to consider those farmers my friends and community. There are so many amazing people who make up the market, and it’s a pleasure to be connected to that vibrant network.

I’m also grateful to be part of a team that holds deep values of sustainable land stewardship, food justice, and care for our local community and one another, working to create positive change within the environmental, social, and political intersections of our food system. CUESA folks work hard and care, and that is a meaningful team to be a part of!

What do you do to recharge outside of work? 

Since shelter-in-place, I’ve been taking daily walks in the Excelsior, where I live with my partner who grew up there (a former Schoolyard to Market teacher!). It’s been fun to connect more with neighbors, explore McLaren Park, and find new parts of the neighborhood neither of us had ever known about before. I like kitchen projects, gardening, going on hikes, and visiting the farmers market as a way to connect to community, enjoy the beauty of the season, and support local farmers and small food businesses. I’ve done ceramics at a studio in the Bayview for many years, which I hope will open again soon, and am studying Clinical Herbalism as part of a multi-year certification program. I enjoy learning about cross cultural perspectives and traditional medicine, and how we can integrate a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing.  

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

There are so many! I’m on the Primavera chilaquiles bandwagon, love the aji panca hot sauce from Tierra, Molly’s bouquets at Lonely Mountain, Downtown Bakery’s galette, Twin Girls’ 10-pound bag of oranges for $8 (to the tune of Joe and Buzz’s rock n’ roll classics), sweet carrots and yellow wax beans from McGinnis, the colorful wonderland at Green Thumb, mara des bois strawberries and squash blossoms from Yerena, mandarins and Fuyu persimmons from Everything Under the Sun, garlic from Allstar, Pink Pearl apples from Devoto, Little Gem lettuce, figs, summer bounty at Lucero, the Torys and white peaches, Ugly Pickle Co., Volcano Kimchi, whole wheat levain and delicious toasted bagels with farmers cheese and pickled onions from Marla Bakery, maitake, king trumpets, and ugly shitake from Far West Fungi, huitlacoche quesadilla from Mi Comedor (a weekly staple when I was in the market), tofu dosirak from Namu…the list goes on! The market is full of treasure, the food and the people. 

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

Thank you for your support! We can make change together!