Volunteer of the Month: Carleen Sikora

March 6, 2014

CUESA’s Volunteer of the Month program recognizes the dedication and work of some of our most active volunteers. CUESA relies on volunteers to help with education programs, special events, public outreach, and other activities that help fulfill our mission to cultivate a sustainable food system. Learn more about volunteering and sign up here.

After attending a pasta-making class hosted by CUESA in 2010, Carleen Sikora joined our volunteer ranks the following year to deepen her involvement in the local food system. It was a perfect fit, allowing her to combine her interest in sustainable agriculture with her love of cooking. You can find her regularly supporting CUESA’s Saturday cooking demonstrations, hands-on cooking classes, cocktail nights, and other special events.

“Carleen is a wonderful volunteer and has committed many of her Saturdays to the CUESA Classroom and Kitchen,” says CUESA Culinary Educator Elianna Friedman. “She loves working with new chefs and recipes, and her enthusiasm for seasonal produce is contagious. She also takes great photos of the food, chefs, and volunteers having fun.”  Meet Carleen.

CUESA: Where does your interest in food come from?
Carleen: Becoming a food lover was a slow process for me. As a kid, I was very picky, and growing up in a small town, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to different cuisines. I didn’t even try Thai or Indian food until I was in my twenties. I think my love of food really took off when I moved to the Mission District in 2003. There’s such a wide variety of restaurants here, from Salvadorean to Cambodian to Peruvian to Pakistani. It was a whole new world for me.

The focus on sustainability came later. The more I learned about our broken food system, the more I felt it was important to be part of the solution. For me that means working to ensure that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, has access to good food that’s produced in a way that’s healthy for our bodies, our ecosystems, and the people growing our food. My parents have always stressed the importance of social justice, and I think the lack of access to good quality food in impoverished areas is definitely a social justice issue. Attending lectures and reading books about our food system also had a huge impact on me. Reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and hearing Vandana Shiva speak genuinely changed my life. 

CUESA: What do you do when you aren’t volunteering for CUESA?
Carleen: I work full time for a financial company in the Presidio. In my spare time, I love to travel, cook, hike, hang out with my family, and go out to eat with friends or my husband, Scott.  I’m also in two book clubs and enjoy hearing live music, especially Scott’s band, Saucy. I love learning, so I’m always signing up for some lecture or class, whether it’s ecological horticulture, Indonesian cooking, butchery, or cheese making. I also volunteer for Alemany Farm and for other food-related events like the Food and Farm Film Festival.

CUESA: What is your favorite part about volunteering with CUESA?
Carleen: Getting to work with and learn from such a wide variety of talented chefs. I also really love being exposed to new flavors. Before volunteering in the CUESA Kitchen, I’d never tried a sunchoke, kumquat, loroco, or a jujube. I also love the social part, meeting other volunteers and members of the public who share a passion for delicious and fair food. 

CUESA: Do you have an insider market tip or a favorite produce item at the market right now?
Carleen: My go-to vendor is Catalán Family Farm.  That’s always my first stop and where I buy the bulk of my standard veggies.  They’re super nice, and their prices are great. My favorite things at the market right now are kumquats, romanesco, pea shoots, and pretty much anything from Craftsman and Wolves.  I also just purchased edible flowers for the first time last Saturday, and they make me really happy.