SFUSD Students Learn About Food Justice and Find Connection in Distance Learning Through Program by CUESA

NOTE: This blog post and accompanying media and links were published in February and March earlier this year when SFUSD was in distance learning.

SFUSD in the News: Watch SFUSD Foodwise Teens at work at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in March 2021.

Now in its third year, Foodwise Teens continues to support youth in learning about food justice and developing life and leadership skills in a new format. Before the pandemic, students met with CUESA educators at local high schools to care for their school garden, harvest fruits and vegetables, and create value-added products, which they would later sell at CUESA’s farmers markets. COVID-19 changed all of that last March when schools closed to in-person learning. 

Over the spring and summer, CUESA worked to adapt the program to ensure that students would still be able to have this valuable experience during the pandemic. Last fall, CUESA ran its first distance semester of Foodwise Teens with 32 students from three SFUSD high schools: The Academy - San Francisco @ McAteer, John O’Connell High School, and Mission High School. The cohort received gardening and cooking kits at their residences and were encouraged to invite siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, or anyone they are living with to join in hands-on activities. 

Each week, teens gathered over Zoom with students from other schools and grades and shared what they learned while they were away from their screens. Though distance learning has not been without its challenges, the new format has provided valuable opportunities for students to connect with their families, community, and each other, even while sheltering-in-place. 

One of the students’ favorite activities was making rainbow spring rolls with fresh fruits and vegetables from CUESA’s farmers, which allowed them to practice different cutting techniques. “I liked eating my hard work,” says Ellie Chen, a twelfth-grade student at Academy SF @ McAteer. “It was also an opportunity for me and my mom to bond over making a food that came from our culture.” 

Another favorite activity was growing radish and lettuce plants from seed in a container garden at home. Similar to Ellie’s experience, this activity brought tenth-grader Azucena “Azu” Hernandez closer to her family, while she practiced new skills. 

“When we did the grow box, mine didn’t end too well,” she admits. “I’ve always liked plants. I’ve just always been really bad and accidentally kill them.” So she asked for help from her dad and sister, who would frequently garden without Azu. “Since we took care of my grow box together, they were like, ‘Oh, Azu can garden too!’ Now I get included.” 

This spring, CUESA will be hosting 35 more students in another distance-learning semester of Foodwise Teens, providing an urgently needed space to build community, knowledge, and skills in an isolating time. Marco, an eleventh-grader from Mission High School, says this “is especially important right now because COVID restricts human interaction, but Foodwise Teens incorporates a certain sense of human interaction that we have been lacking.” 

Through Foodwise Teens, students reveal that we are more resilient not as individuals, but rather as a community. Only by working together will we come out of the pandemic stronger.  

As Ariana, a twelfth-grader from Mission High School puts it, Foodwise Teens “is important because you get to have a knowledgeable relationship with what you eat. It’s also not common for teens to be aware of their communities’ food issues. It’s important to learn these things because we can pass that knowledge on to those who don’t know.” 

Students were paid stipends funded by the Sugary Drinks Distributor Tax (SDDT) a.k.a Soda Tax. This is an SFUSD Wellness Policy student project coordinated by Saeeda Hafiz, SFUSD Wellness Policy Project Manager.