Established in 2007, FoodWhat (FW) runs dynamic programming, large events and community education programs that reach over 1000 youth and community members each year. We partner with high school aged youth, most of whom are in alternative education and continuation high schools, or are hand selected for need from mostly South County traditional high schools. We prioritize youth who are struggling from low family income, academic challenges, trauma, substance abuse, and/or in foster care. Recognizing the equity issues between north and south county resources, FW deliberately invests in further outreach and programmatic elements in the Watsonville area.
FoodWhat programs are held on our half-acre organic farm at the UCSC Farm & Garden and on our partner farm site in Watsonville, Discovery at Live Earth Farm. Youth from all over Santa Cruz County join the FW crew through our Spring Internship, Summer Job Training Program, Fall Project Management Program, Winter Community Education Program and through organizing large community events on the farm.
The Spring Internship Program
is the first step in our graduated leadership model, centered on leadership development and job training through sustainable agriculture. Fifty to sixty youth meet in small groups one day per week for 11 weeks earning 2-5 school credits and a $175 stipend. There are typically 5 cohorts with two meeting on the Santa Cruz farm and three meeting on the Watsonville farm. Each day we start out with an icebreaker to amp up and build the team. Then we engage in an hour of farm work learning transferable job skills, a youth empowerment or leadership development workshop, and end the day making a healthy and delicious meal together using produce the youth have been growing. We close each session with “Triumphs” inviting each youth to share one thing they’re proud of themselves for from that day.
THE SUMMER JOB TRAINING PROGRAM
employs 20 youth hired from the Spring Program for 4 days per week for 8 weeks, from 9am-3pm, as well as 4 Junior Staff youth from the previous year. The main focus is on professionalism - how to get and keep a job and thrive in that position. We spend two days per week on the Santa Cruz farm and two days in Watsonville. Youth are growing food for themselves and working with stellar local chefs to create major lunches each day. They are each harvesting, packing, and bringing home a box of fresh, healthy, organic fruits and veggies from the farm each week, supporting their families and connecting their positive diet change at the program with their home life. They are diving into workshops on food justice, exploring identity in a safe and supported space, and digging into discussions on relevant local and national events. Summer youth spend one day per week renovating local Watsonville school gardens so those spaces are up and running for the elementary school students for the start of the next school year. And each week ends with a full day of farming at Live Earth where youth push their perceived boundaries and practice rigor. Youth are paid an hourly wage and earn over $2000 contributing to their family income, supporting themselves, and honoring a greater sense of their economic worth. This is the most significant program of the year as youth are on site for the largest number of hours and in addition to major job training and health outcomes, youth report great personal growth and transformation during this time.
THE FALL PROJECT MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
hires fifteen to twenty teens from the Summer Job for 8-10 weeks for the next tier in this leadership model where youth apply all the skills and training received in the Spring and Summer to co-manage farm-based businesses and community service projects. These positions include Flower Management, Farm and Harvest Management, Farm Stand Management, Food and Catering, Event Planning, and a School Garden Renovation Team.
Finally, a small number of FW youth lead the WINTER COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAM, teaching workshops on a range of health and food justice topics in area high schools while modeling leadership. After this cycle, youth have the opportunity to be hired on as JUNIOR STAFF for advanced training to co-lead the Summer Program with FW staff the following year.