"What Did You Do This Summer?" Foodwise Teens Fellows Give Back

August 20, 2021

As students return to the classroom this week, “What did you do this summer?” is a much-anticipated, and sometimes dreaded, question many young people are bound to hear. And in this second pandemic summer after 18 months of school closures, the question is especially fraught for many kids. But for a group of San Francisco high school students who dedicated eight weeks working at the farmers market or school garden, one answer is resoundingly clear: “I was a Foodwise Teens Fellow.”

The Foodwise Teens Fellowship is a continuation of CUESA’s Foodwise Teens paid job training program, where ​​students learn about food justice, develop job skills, and get hands-on experience in the garden, kitchen, and farmers markets. Complementing the semester-long after-school program, the fellowship is an opportunity for students to take their food education to the next level, expand their professional resume, and connect with people and nature.

This summer, 11 San Francisco youth each completed 90 fellowship hours with CUESA, in partnership with Opportunities for All. Some students worked with our team at CUESA’s office or farmers markets, supporting education programs and helping customers at the info booth, while others cultivated the school garden at SFUSD’s John O’Connell High School, bringing veggie beds back to life after a year left untended.

Two students worked directly with farmers at the Green Thumb Organics and Oya Organics booths at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Creating paths to employment in the local food community is one objective of the program, and some fellows have landed longer-term part-time jobs at the farmers market as they go back to school this fall.

In a time of uncertainty, Zoom fatigue, and isolation, participating in Foodwise Teens has meant many different things to the summer fellows, from getting in-person social interaction and real-world job experience to understanding firsthand the hard work it takes to grow your own food or run a farmers market or farm business. Each student grew in their own way, and each gave back to their community tenfold in the wholehearted care, courage, and leadership with which they showed up. 

Don’t take our word for it; hear from the students themselves! Here are reflections from some of our Foodwise Teens Fellows about what they are most proud of from their summer working in our local food community.

Ydalia (right), CUESA Farmers Market Fellow

I’m proud that I was able to get back into the world working at a farmers market. It’s been a tough couple of years so it was nice getting out and working at the farmers market. I’m proud that I got to learn a lot working at the Mission Community Market, and I got over a couple of fears of mine. The fellowship showed me what it’s like to run a farmers market. There’s definitely more to it than I thought. The whole process and making sure it is going smoothly. The stories I hear from the farmers have taught me a lot too, like what it’s like to grow the food and transport it to the farmers markets. My relationship with food has changed because now I’ve been shown that with some care, the food tastes a lot better. 

Sasha (left), CUESA Farmers Market Fellow

I feel most proud of completing this internship and meeting the people who work the operations teams because they were really nice and helpful. I also feel proud of meeting new people like customers and people who have their own booths. I enjoyed it a lot, and have learned new things. I think about where the food I’m going to eat comes from. I think twice. Before Foodwise Teens, I didn’t really think about the food I was going to eat or where it’s coming from. When joining Foodwise Teens, I began to learn about making myself meals, how junk food is not a good choice, how making your own healthy meals is better, and how farmers markets work (asking questions) rather than grocery stores (not knowing answers).

Jon (left), Market Vendor Fellow with Green Thumb Organics

I felt most proud whenever the customers in the farmers market were happy when they got produce from our stand. I also felt good when I felt like I was doing a good job and was being helpful. My food wisdom has increased since the beginning of the fellowship by trying new vegetables. I realized that foods from the farmers market are more fresh and usually brighter and juicier and more flavorful. I know more names and types of vegetables and fruits. Participating in the fellowship helped me feel empowered to make a change in the food system because I worked in the farmers market. I learned that buying from farmers markets supports small businesses and farms, as well  as getting taxes paid into the community.

Jhony (second from left), School Garden Fellow

I’m proud of learning how to plant and take care of the garden, and learning about many different seeds, fruits, and vegetables. I’m proud of my work giving new soil to the trees, and all the mulching I did on the whole garden. I grew bok choi and flowers from seedlings at home and now they’re growing in our garden. My mom has been teaching me how to cook the food I bring home from the garden. I’ve been learning how to cut and prepare fruits and vegetables and how to use a knife. I’ve been eating more fruits and vegetables than I used to because I’ve been trying new things. I have a better understanding of all the hard physical work that goes into farming and taking care of a garden. I think we have made a change at the garden. When we started it was a mess, but after our work it’s a nice functioning garden!

Devin, School Garden Fellow

I feel proud of getting a job, since this is my first one. I had a goal for this summer and it was just to do something so I didn’t sit around all summer. I’m proud I actually had the drive to do something and find a community. It feels so great to know that it was worth it. Even though you might hate getting up or working late, you do enjoy it still. I have gained the knowledge of growing our food and how much time it takes. The labor and the fun but also the feeling when something fails that you’ve spent weeks on, and also the joy of seeing one seed sprout. Knowing the effort that goes behind my food, I appreciate it more.

Erika, School Garden Fellow

I feel most proud of spending most of my summer working in the garden, and being able to see how the garden grew and transformed over this time. Learning how to grow my own food and see it be ready to harvest but also share it with other people has definitely made me happy. Participating in the fellowship has made me want to grow my own food. It has also made me share what we have grown in the garden with loved ones and let them know the importance of this basic human knowledge we should have to survive and nourish our bodies, but also helps our earth more than ever now with all the damage that has been made to it. It’s a great opportunity to be part of this program because it’s a very unique experience that I think more people like myself should be able to have.

Help CUESA bring back experiential food education for youth of all ages this fall. Donate now to our Back to School, Back to the Farmers Market campaign.

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