Schoolyard to Market Students Help Kids Become Foodwise

Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
August 11, 2017

When Mauriciana Quinn first moved to San Francisco, she found herself not eating as healthfully as she had when she was living in Humboldt County with her grandmother, who had a garden. But through her high school’s gardening program, Schoolyard to Market, offered by CUESA, she was able to rekindle her love of fresh fruits and vegetables while living in a city, where processed foods abound.

This summer, Mauriciana (“Mauri” for short) shared those healthy lessons with young eaters as an intern for CUESA’s Foodwise Kids farmers market cooking classes. This new internship program provides paid learning opportunities for high schoolers who have completed the Schoolyard to Market program, while helping make the popular Foodwise Kids field trips available year-round for the first time.

“I think it’s important for kids to know about stuff like healthy eating,” says Mauri. “I wish I would have learned it sooner in my life. But now I know.”

A Next Step for School Garden Education

As a tenth-grader at Life Learning Academy, an SFUSD public charter school on Treasure Island, Mauri spent a semester in CUESA’s Schoolyard to Market program, where she grew produce in the school garden, took field trips to local farms, and gained entrepreneurial know-how selling garden-grown products at the farmers market.

“I learned a lot of stuff that I think will help me a lot, like how to know when fruits or vegetables are ripe,” says Mauri.

In addition to learning about where food comes from, she gained career skills and confidence through her experiences at the farmers market. “I think it helps a lot of students because it’s our first job,” says Mauri. “I used to be really shy and not confident when I talked. Now I feel like I have a lot more people skills.”

After the spring semester, she and her fellow Schoolyard to Marketer Hennessy Alvarez (pictured above, right, with Mauri, center) were looking for summer jobs, and found placement through their school’s career center as interns in CUESA’s Foodwise Kids program. They loved working with kids, so it was the perfect fit.

“Both of them had been really excited about their experiences growing food and selling it at the farmers market, and were interested in expanding their knowledge,” says CUESA’s Education Program Coordinator, Tessa Kappe. “The internship took what they learned to the next level by empowering them to be leaders for younger students.”

Growing Young Teachers for Foodwise Kids

Offered for free to Bay Area public elementary school students, CUESA’s Foodwise Kids program launched in 2012, and has grown each year to keep up with the demand. This innovative program uses the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as a classroom: students explore what’s in season, talk to farmers, and then bring the produce they’ve picked to the CUESA Kitchen to prepare a healthy meal.

“Lots of kids are not eating healthy food, which leads to negative health outcomes in the long-term,” says Tessa. “Kids often come to our program thinking that vegetables taste bad, and a big reason for that is that vegetables are usually imposed on children. Foodwise Kids works because it’s very kid-centric. They get to choose fresh fruits and vegetables themselves and decide what they want to eat with their friends.”

“We get feedback from teachers saying it’s their students’ favorite field trip of the year, and that they talk about it long after they’ve visited,” says Tessa. “Parents are amazed that their kid wants to eat broccoli, when they didn’t before.”

This past school year, the free program filled to capacity, serving 2,296 students and 467 teachers and parents.

To bring the Foodwise Kids experience to more youth, CUESA collaborated with summer programs at the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and TEL HI Neighborhood Center to bring 214 summer campers this year.  “Offering the program in the summer is an exciting opportunity to reach not only more students, but also the staff members who can influence what students are learning about,” says Tessa.

A Win-Win for Healthy Teens and Healthy Kids

GianCarlo Onorati, a camp director at the Embarcadero YMCA, saw bringing his campers to Foodwise Kids as a natural fit, with the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market just down the street from the YMCA branch.

“At the YMCA, we teach kids about how much sodium is in the chips they eat and how much sugar is in the Gatorade, and we encourage them not to eat so much of that,” he says. “But there have been no activities or field trips that are really directed at encouraging healthy habits through fruits and vegetables. This program definitely fills a niche.”

At the farmers market, he witnessed his campers eagerly try new foods, like tiny cucumbers called mousemelons. “I thought it was cool for the kids to choose what they wanted to make and interact with the farmers face to face, and then get to cook,” he says. “They now know that the farmers market is available to them.”

For Mauri, being a Foodwise Kids intern reinforced what she had learned in her Schoolyard to Market experience. “I noticed when the kids first come, they just don’t know a lot about farming and fresh produce, or that they can support all of the people around them by coming to a farmers market—and the food can be better for them, too. It’s really nice to be able to teach other people the things that I’ve learned.”

According to Tessa, having Mauri and Hennessy help lead the class was a win-win in terms of engaging the boisterous young summer campers. “Teenagers have the power to impact kids really strongly, because they’re closer to their age,” she says. “It was exciting to see the Schoolyard to Market students be role models. They got to share what they’d learned and see these little faces reflecting back and looking up to them.”

The feeling was mutual for Mauri, who now wants to be a farmer when she grows up. “I think my favorite part is going around the market with the kids. When they see and try new foods they get really excited. You can see it in their expressions.”

Help offer these healthy experiences to more Bay Area youth. Make a donation to support CUESA’s Schoolyard to Market and Foodwise Kids program.

Topics: , ,