Youth from various youth empowerment and food justice organizations from Los Angeles to the Bay Area came together on our farm in Santa Cruz for an exciting day of learning, connecting, creating, progressing, discussing, and eating! Live Real, Rooted in Community, Veggielutions, Root Down LA, Project EAT, Community Services Unlimited, and Pie Ranch joined FoodWhat to make Youth Day a fun and empowering event for every single person involved. With 100+ youth participating, the CASFS Apprentices (who co-organized), food justice leaders, volunteers, and many others who helped out, Youth Day screamed what food justice and youth empowerment was all about!
To get everyone amped up for the day, the FoodWhat crew led the crowd through some ice breakers. Chris and Brandon got “My Biggest Fan” started to pump up the energy on the farm. The group spontaneously played games of “rock, paper, scissors.” The loser of the match became the winner’s biggest fan by following them around and cheering them on through the other matches! By the end, the whole crowd was jumping around, cheering, and high-fiving each other!
The next game was called "Toe to Toe.” People got into pairs and had to join whichever body part together that Connor or Selena announced. While joined, Connor and Selena presented questions the pairs had to answer to get to know each other better.
Then it was time for the scavenger hunt! To get our visitors familiar with the farm, the mass of people split up into smaller groups. Each group was given a map of the farm with different sets of clues to lead them to specific locations where members of the FoodWhat crew and the apprentices were holding various activities.
One clue led to the greenhouses where a Justice Quilt was under construction. Here, each person shared in the group what food justice meant to them and then made an action commitment which they wrote up and pinned on the quilt.
Another station helped linked the beautiful smells around the farm with memory and feeling. The youth sniffed the scents of a variety of plants, such as white sage, lemon basil, and various roses, and were asked what the smells made them think of. While the lemon basil reminded some of freshness and the roses reminded others of romance, this workshop woke up our senses and proved that the smell of plants are strongly tied with memories and feelings.
Youth Day also taught the youth an alternative, customizable way to make tea using the sun! Each group created their own, unique flavor of tea using fresh ingredients such as rose petals, sage, lemon verbena, raspberry leafs, and sliced citrus to blend in a giant jug of water. As the sun came out throughout the day, the water within the jugs heated up and released the scents and flavors from the ingredients.
Under the kiwi vines, groups sampled Santa Rosa plums, Red Beauty plums, and blueberries! Reminded of what real food tastes like, the crew was refreshed and excited to see what the chefs had in store for lunch!
And the time finally came! Lunch consisted of a feast of cilantro coleslaw, strawberry salsa, kale avocado salad, green onions, spicy red salsa, guacamole, tortillas, black beans, and Mexican rice! All of this deliciousness was washed down with fresh jamaica, made with hibiscus flowers! This was a great time for the crews to socialize and get to know each other over heaping plates of goodness!
After lunch, the youth were free to explore the many different workshops throughout the rest of the afternoon! One workshop was essential: pizza-making! Everyone helped roll out dough, make sauce, and top the pizzas with fresh vegetables from the field. With such a dedicated and large team getting the pies ready for the oven, dinner was already looking and smelling like a surefire success!
Over at the FoodWhat kitchen, homemade lip balm and salves were being made! Using honeycomb and other fresh ingredients, the youth made skin products that tasted, smelled, and felt how they wanted them to. Not only did they learn how to make the products at home for themselves or as gifts, but they also learned the specifics of making homemade products to sell!
Those with a sweet tooth after lunch headed over to the DIY ice cream workshop where their cravings could be more than satisfied. On the table, jars of syrup, such as chocolate, blackberry, lavender, and plum, were used at the dessert-makers' discretion to create the perfect flavor for the warm summer day.
Inspired by the smells of the scent workshop, the youth made beautiful bouquets of a wide variety of different flowers. But first, they received a lesson on bouquet-making from the apprentice experts who bundle the arrangements to sell at their weekly Farm Stand. They learned the handy tricks for creating a visually appealing, balanced arrangement.
Under the shade of the avocado trees, students learned about solar energy and how much potential it holds! They discussed the issues with other energy forms (such as nuclear energy) and learned first-hand how much energy the sun holds through a few experiments. One particularly tasty experiment harnessed the sun’s energy to make brownies using a solar oven! The brownies took about as long to bake as they would in a kitchen oven and tasted equally delicious.
Another super rad workshop allowed some to conquer their fears of the black and yellow pollinators: bees! The beekeeping workshop gave the youth a chance to gear up and directly handle bees from their boxes. The workshop revealed that honey bees are the most mellow of all stinging insects, but still provided some useful tips to avoid getting stung. We learned all about beekeeping, the lives of bees, and how they operate within their hives as a completely cooperative unit!
For those feeling inclined to work with their words, the poetry workshop provided a space to practice written expression and flow! Those who checked it out learned tips on how to overcome the struggle of simply getting started with the pen on the paper as well as how to collaborate with other writers and get the word out there.
The cheese-making workshop gave youth a chance to say something that many people can’t: “I milked a goat today!” Yes, the youth got the chance to work hands-on in every step of the cheese-making process. We watched the milk form clumps of cheese and separated the whey from the rest of the mixture. Because we had special goat guests on the farm, the workshop also gave us a chance to learn some cool goat fun facts.
The Theater of the Oppressed workshop gave youth a creative and expressive outlet to demonstrate what oppression means to them. Each small group within this workshop acted out a short skit to show a real-life situation where injustices in the food system take place. The catch? Each person could only move once and say one statement, then freeze! Those in the audience could say “Stop!” and interfere to change the situation for the better. It's clear that youth have the ingenuity and creative energy to solve even our most challenging justice issues....politicians, listen up!
Another workshop showed youth how to make their own terrariums. What is a terrarium? Ours were a small garden of succulents planted at the bottom of a glass vessel. The plants within these vases grow really large, filling up the container. The terrariums can be used to decorate a room or be given as a gorgeous, handmade gift! The best part is that they’re low-cost to make and the youth can use clippings from their own terrarium to make terrariums for others!
After all of the workshops were finished up, it was time to come together as a group again. The field was decorated with the justice quilt and the bouquets everyone made throughout the day.
Vicky and Chris introduced our guest speakers. We were privileged to have farm laborers from our county come tell their stories and help us understand the industrial agricultural system. The first speakers were a family of farm workers who openly told their audience about the struggles they face as a result of injustices in the food system. Extremely low pay, hard labor, and unstable living circumstances provided by farm camps have left this family with a number of burdens they struggle to overcome. Vicky translated for the audience as the family told their stories. Her strength in front of the crowd communicated the family’s story in a way that moved listeners and retained the same power and emotion as when the family themselves spoke. Another speaker shared his story of immigrating to the United States from Mexico to work in the fields only to find the low pay and miserable working conditions such jobs impose on laborers. He has since started his own farm and feels compelled to inform consumers the importance of paying slightly higher prices for their produce to ensure the fair treatment of those who worked to grow and harvest the produce. He spoke strongly and articulately about necessary changes that need to take place within the food system to ensure justice for the workers, land, and consumers. These stories informed us on a personal level how the poor working conditions within parts of the agricultural industry directly places hardships on the families laboring to produce our food.
With powerful energy in the air, it was time to eat and celebrate the youth coming together, ready to take action for food justice within our own communities! The pizzas everyone worked on earlier in the day were hot out of the oven and ready to be enjoyed along with the salad and sun tea.
Everyone was very grateful for Pie Ranch as they served up some dessert! Mmm.. Pie!
Brenda, an apprentice on the farm, ended the day with powerful words. She urged us to bring home what we learned and let it move our communities. She warned against leaving the farm and letting the media and other negative influences shut our minds off from everything we discovered, created, and felt throughout the day. Having seen hidden truths and injustices facing real people today, she passionately put forth a challenge to not forget or revert back to old ways. The voices of the whole crowd gradually joined Brenda in chanting “Wake up! Don’t go back to sleep!” proving that Brenda had indeed instilled a sense of necessary change within the youth.
The powerful speech ended with a spontaneous group hug! With inspiration and energy levels through the roof, the apprentices, organization leaders, youth from every group, and everyone who helped out, joined together to celebrate the advances that were made at Youth Day toward developing a more just food system, and healthier minds and bodies.