Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Food, What?!" Youth Rock the FoodSpeaks Radio Premiere!

The premiere episode of FoodSpeaks went off without a hitch on December 12th, 2012 as Doron Comerchero, Maya Salsedo and Deonte McClure took to the mic to address food issues facing youth and their efforts in the food movement. Featured on KZSC 88.1 the second Wednesday of each month, FoodSpeaks is a collective voice that aims to promote the ideas, culture, and people that make up the food movement here in Santa Cruz County. Led by our own Doron, Santa Cruz County Farmer’s Market organizers Nesh Dhillon and Nicole Zahm, and Kate’s Kitchen Garden’s Kate Purcell, the show will feature guest speakers on topics ranging from food justice, to farm labor, to food economics, to at-home gardening projects, and more.

In the first show, titled “Youth and the Food Justice Movement”, Doron, Maya, and Deonte spoke candidly about the work they have done locally with FoodWhat and nationally with Rooted in Community. They also explained how they have transferred the lessons of their work into their peer and family culture and their everyday lives. The goal of this show was to showcase youth involvement in food movement work, and these two youth did a stellar job of reppin’ their age group!

Maya discussed her 2012 Brower Youth Award for her work on the “Youth Food Bill of Rights” and expressed her desire to continuing mobilizing youth nationally to make significant changes that will ultimately lead to equal access and equitable distribution of fresh, healthy foods. Maya grew up in a food insecure household that relied heavily on processed, unhealthy, fast foods. She explained how the juxtaposition of her upbringing with the knowledge she gleaned from FoodWhat and food justice work has propelled her to take action on many levels. Maya uses her personal transformation to inform the work she does, and catalyzes this energy to create big picture change.

Deonte had the local slant, focusing predominantly on how his involvement with FoodWhat has affected the choices he makes in his life every day as he learns to eat, live, and be healthier. Doron asked Deonte, “ So, it’s Friday night - you and your friends have all been out partying - and you roll up to Taco Bell for some late night snacks. What do you order off the menu?” Questions like these highlight the central role of unhealthy, fast foods in teen’s lives and display the dynamics of peer pressure in a youth’s food decisions. Deonte handled the questions with finesse, highlighting his awareness of nutrition and healthful habits, and said that he would just try to order the healthiest thing on the menu. 

Deonte and Maya explained that, often, there just aren’t any healthy choices available and youth are impelled to make poor food choices due to a lack of variety in their markets and neighborhoods. They expressed their frustration with this situation, and their desire to work to change it in their schools, communities, and world. Their message came through loud and clear, youth want equal access to fresh, healthy foods, and Maya and Deonte are leading the way to make it happen!

Listen to the show here!

Monday, December 10, 2012


This a very special story. It's about the growth of an individual, the growth of an organization, and the growth of a movement...

Maya Salsedo       Empowering youth with powerful tools to advocate for a just food system

Let's go to the heart of the story: Maya Salsedo wins the Brower Youth Award!

The Brower Youth Award recognizes six young people in North America annually for their outstanding activism and achievements in the field of environmental justice advocacy.  

This is one of the most prestigious awards a youth can win for their activism and leadership, and we are so proud of Maya for her accomplishments!

(Watch this award video made by the Earth Island Institute to hear Maya's story.)

Click here to read the full story!

How strong, how articulate, how powerful, how aware, how sensitive, how generous is this young woman...

Maya won this award for her work in Rooted in Community--the only national youth-led movement for healthy food and food justice for all. She was awarded for her work in the creation of the Youth Food Bill of Rights. This Bill is a vehicle for amplifying the youth voice in the food justice movement and is used as a tool for foundational peer-to-peer education on issues surrounding our food system.  Maya is RIC's National Youth Organizer and according to Gera Marin, RIC's Co-Director, this award "honors her outstanding work and dedication to growing youth power for food justice nationally and beyond!"

The night of her award was a magical night.  I sent a quick communication blast out to past FoodWhat youth and we filled a 15-passenger van to jet up to San Francisco.  What was so unique about this collection of FoodWhat crew, is that with Maya included, we had youth from each of the six years of the program.  Six years of youth were touched by Maya and her work!
There was dancing to celebrate
FoodWhat represent!

We started with a healthy meal
Box seat at the Herbst Theater = loud cheering section for Maya

There was so much eager anticipation each time they were about to present the next award. And then Maya took the stage...

She told her story, invited the crowd to shout out "Fooooood, Whaaaaaat?!", spoke about the importance of Rooted in Community while explaining the Youth Food Bill of Rights, and offered appreciations to her mentors in this journey.

Maya as part of the FIRST FoodWhat Crew in 2007
Maya getting her hands dirty that first year

Maya's work is changing youth culture around food.  It's changing young people's understanding of their food system in relation to what they eat, how it affects the farm workers and the environment, how to get access to fresh healthy food, how to speak up for what you believe in, and that when you do so it really does make a difference.  Maya created a tool for youth to engage in all these conversations--a way for them to explore and get activated.  

Maya's work in FoodWhat created a second-year youth model which is now our Junior Staff program.  She has constantly innovated our program and offered peer-to-peer education to our crews each summer.  She even helps with the funding of FoodWhat, like keynoting our benefit this past Fall.

Maya designed the Rooted in Community Youth Organizer job and then filled it.  She collaborated with over 100 youth from around the country to lead them in creating the Youth Food Bill of Rights.  Through RIC she speaks at conferences to adults about the youth role in the food movement and she connects directly with youth.

I remember driving Maya and a few others to the Brower Youth Awards in 2008.  Maya left that evening feeling inspired to do something like those award winners to make a significant impact for positive change.  She wanted to do something worthy of such an award.

Now she's the one on stage, and leaving that night, our crew was buzzing with energy about what they might do. 

Last week, my wife Kirstin (local farmer) was on a sustainable agriculture panel at UCSC.  Before she spoke she texted me that two FoodWhat alums, Vicky and Max, were in the front row! Even better is the back story that had them seated together that day...At Maya's award Vicky and Max (from different years at FoodWhat) connected and decided that they want to do something big to win the award.  They had met up before Kirstin's class to talk about their plan, and then Vicky who goes to UCSC invited Max to stay. There is a ripple effect that Maya is spreading from winning her award, and it's going out big!

Doron Comerchero
Director-"Food, What?!"

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Food, What?!" November Photo-of-the-Month

What you're missing right now is our super juicy Photo-of-the-Month.  Click this link to check it out!

Just finished-up teaching a FoodWhat workshop series in two high schools.
Photos speak for themselves!

(Farm fresh salsa making at Natural Bridges High School in Santa Cruz and the Success Academy in Watsonville.)

With Thankfulness,
Doron, Abby, and the FoodWhat Crew

Friday, November 2, 2012

FoodWhat Fall Jobs 2012

Many FoodWhat Summer crew members come back to the farm to work during the Fall program. The Fall Jobs are the next level in our graduated leadership model.  This is the time for full on application of all the job training from the summer, and for complete ownership and leadership over their management  positions.  There are seven FoodWhat Management Jobs this Fall: Farm and Harvest, Culinary Arts, Flower Business, Farm Stand, BLAST (school garden support crew), Harvest Festival Planners, and Community Educators. Taking on a fall job also means crew members become candidates for junior staff next year!  

The Farm and Harvest Managers keep the fields just as well-maintained as they had over the summer while harvesting a bounty of fresh produce for our Farm Stand each week! After harvest, the crew washes, organizes, and takes count of the day's yield. The day always ends with boxes of lettuce, chard, carrots, peppers, and endless tomatoes.


While the harvest crew is busy picking vegetables, the Flower Business Managers cut and arrange flower bouquets. Connor, Matthew, and Edgar work hard cutting a variety of flowers, ranging from baby’s breath to sunflowers. Their creativity comes into play as they arrange the flowers into bouquets to sell at our Gault Farm Stand and to local businesses such as Penny Ice Creamery, Café Delmarette, The Picnic Basket, Lulu Carpenters, Maple St. Clinic, Café Brasil, and Gabriella Café. Big thanks to these local businesses for their support!


The Farm Stand Managers take on the role of selling the produce and some bouquets to the community through our operation at Gault Elementary School. Brandon and Keyah work on their organizational skills by setting up the stand and making all of the produce look as appealing to the eyes as it will be to the taste buds. The farm stand also gives them experience with handling money and working on their customer service as they interact with people from the community. Families, many low-income, who buy FoodWhat’s produce know that they are getting fresh, local, organic produce at very affordable pricing. Seeing the vibrant vegetables at their school has even gotten students and their young siblings excited to shop at the farm stand.  This year we saw a new trend in students buying carrots as an after-school snack!


FoodWhat’s Culinary Arts Management Team continued to expand their culinary knowledge and sharpening their skills around the kitchen. Matthew, Deonte, and Crystal have worked on various events throughout the fall, such as making dinner for the FoodWhat Benefit, the Edible Monterey Anniversay Dinner, and even preparing lunch for Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other influential books about the food movement)! Aside from working on large events, the crew used the season’s bounty of tomatoes to make and preserve cans of tomato sauce and salsa. In addition to all of this cooking, the crew also started a granola business! To get your hands on some of their homemade granola (lavender or original), check out the Gault Elementary School farm stand, the Homeless Garden Project Holiday Store, or contact us directly.

This year FoodWhat added the Community Educator positions to the Fall Management Jobs.  Keyah, Vicky, and Jose went to different sites to educate people about nutrition and food justice through a variety of workshops and projects. Vicky hosted a game of Fast Food Jeopardy for girls at the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center while Keyah and Jose led Food Justice workshops at the FoodWhat Harvest Festival earlier in the month. The crew also partnered with the FoodShed Project of the Santa Cruz Farmer's Market to lead monthly scavenger hunts around the market and educate people about nutrition and food justice.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 October Photo of the Month

October 6th -- FoodWhat Benefit Dinner
Thank you to all of our amazing guests who helped make this the most successful benefit event we've ever had.  Together we raised $32,000 to support FoodWhat and our youth, and shared in a delicious, inspiring, and nourishing evening.

October 17th -- FoodWhat Harvest Festival
As you can see, these are the tough decisions we posed to over 200 middle and high school students from across Santa Cruz County.  (She chose the Delicata squash over the Red Kuri and Carnival varieties in case you were wondering.)

October 25th -- Guess Who Came to Lunch?!
...Michael Pollan!  

Deonte (pictured above with white apron) and Crystal made lunch for Michael Pollan and friends who came to check out FoodWhat, Life Lab, and the UCSC Farm and Garden.  When we got to the FoodWhat Field, I spoke for a few minutes then passed the mic to the youth.
Vicky (black t-shirt) told a very personal story about justice and punctuated it with: "I'm only 18 and 
(on the farm at FoodWhat) I've already been shown respect. My Mom has been on this earth for thirty-six years and never had a day of respect in her life (as a field worker on a farm in Watsonville)."
Deonte shared about his time at FoodWhat and said "Now I feel very confident in myself and as a chef."  Michael Pollan asked him how he got so confident as a chef and Deonte responded..."Well, from cooking here at FoodWhat, and from Abby...and...well...from watching a lot of cooking shows!" 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

We catered for Edible Monterey Magazine Party

Crystal, Matthew, and Deonte (FoodWhat's Fall Culinary crew) teamed up with Lightfoot Industries, Santa Cruz ROP culinary arts program, and Chef Brad Briske, to cater Edible Monterey Magazine's 1st Anniversary Party. Under the incredible expertise of Chef Brad, the crew spent Thursday afternoon and all day Friday prepping, cooking and serving the dinner. The event was a delicious and beautiful celebration of our local foodshed while offering great professional practice fort the youth. However, the true success for us was the collaboration of these rad youth organizations in the county all doing great work with young people and food. This was the first time we all teamed up for an event, and hopefully not the last. The youth came together seamlessly. They spent a lot of time behind the scenes laughing together while setting tables, plating food, and washing dishes. New friendships were made and confidence built. Our crew got to see that what they are learning and experiencing at FoodWhat is part of a larger community. To top it off, Crystal and Deonte spoke in front of all of the guests and told their stories. Deonte talked about eating less fast food and feeling more confident with his culinary skills. Crystal shared how she has become a stronger, more confident and more responsible person over her year with FoodWhat.
You can read more about the event and menu here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Food, What?! 2012 Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival

On October 17th, Food, What?! hosted its annual Harvest Festival! Buses of students from different schools across Santa Cruz County joined us to celebrate the season. The day consisted of a variety of workshops, activities, and healthy food.
Jose and Vicky, our two FoodWhat Youth Event Planners, noted:  "We the youth at “Food, What?!” think it is important that more students should get involved in understanding their Local Food System, have an enjoyable farm experience, and create a personal connection with organic farming and healthy food."

After getting off the bus, the pumpkin patch was the first destination. Some visitors braved carrying the heftier varieties while others chose more petite ones. As the day went on, they got their creative juices flowing by carving into their selections!  All 300 pumpkins were grown by the FoodWhat Crew.

The FoodWhat crew members led discussions about food justice throughout the day and educated the visitors about their personal power to make positive change in their communities. After informing them about pressing issues and explaining how the issues directly impact lives, participants voiced their opinions and posted their thoughts to the food justice wall.

Thinking requires energy, so FoodWhat made sure no one went hungry. Students tasted 3 distinct varieties of apples exploring color, texture, and flavor. While apples remain a loved treat among all age groups, the squash-sampling was a new experience for most.  The students then voted on their favorite variety with Delicata taking Gold, Red Kuri got Silver, and Carnival finished last.

For lunch, the crew joined Santa Cruz City School's Chef extraordinaire Jamie Smith.  They couldn't get the pizzas out fast enough--and they were LOADED with fresh veggies from the FoodWhat Farm.  Jamie and crew clearly demonstrated how school lunch can be healthy as they served up the delicious, veggie-topped pizzas.

Tony co-led a workshop on the importance of drinking water. He discussed the power water has to heal everyday problems, ranging from a bad mood to a sore throat. To show our guests how great water can make the body feel, Tony refereed potato sack races! All participants truly appreciated water after their races.

And what would a Harvest Festival be without plenty of seasonal, sweet, juicy apples! At one station they made their very own apple cider and at another their own apple tarts. They cored and pealed their apples to make a delicious filling for their crusts and washed it down with some thirst-quenching juice.



Life Lab's stellar staff and UCSC interns performed a skit about making good decisions. Through a hilarious yet relevant skit, students followed the journey of two teens from high school into their adult life and discovered the role of healthy decision making (versus destructive apathy).

The guests got up close and personal with bees by looking at a glass-door hive and learning all about the various roles within the hive.  To top the lesson off, everyone enjoyed samples of honey! Students even discovered how the plants bees pollinate changes the flavor of the honey they produce.

There was another workshop on fair trade foods.  For most students, "Fair Trade" was a new concept. Bananas were a perfect example to explain how trade and purchasing power affects people worldwide.

Those who needed some time to thoroughly enjoy the sights, smells, and sun of the farm took a relaxing hay bale ride.  The ride was also a great way to see the many acres of fields in production of fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables.

At the end of the day, students went home with new knowledge to consider next time they go to the grocery store, new language and interest in fair trade and food justice, an experiential understanding of the value of healthy food, and of course, pumpkins!