The playing field for youth in Santa Cruz County is not level. FoodWhat serves low-income and struggling teenage youth across Santa Cruz County who suffer disproportionately from common problems associated with poverty: diminished school success, severely limited employment options, personal or family trauma, low self-esteem and compromised health. FoodWhat was founded in 2007 to tackle these issues from an empowerment perspective and to provide a safe space for Santa Cruz County youth with the least access to opportunities and resources. Through healthy food, meaningful work, and a deeply connective and supportive group of people surrounding them, the youth in FoodWhat carve out a different path for themselves. We witness them choosing to live healthy, productive lives as they find their voices, cultivate their skills, and develop lasting confidence in themselves.
FoodWhat uses food as the vehicle for youth to build power. FoodWhat uses healthy sustainable food and farming as a medium for providing a bountiful, relevant toolkit that youth use to step into their power and break cycles of poverty.
Every day FoodWhat teens dive into a culturally relevant and delicious meal that they have grown, harvested, and cooked. Each week, they work on planting, managing, harvesting, and distributing fresh healthy food. Youth host affordable farm stands at local schools, organize health and justice events for local students and organizations, run farm businesses and lead peer-to-peer workshops on food justice and empowerment in high school classrooms across the county.
All FoodWhat programs include components of leadership training (focused on communication, responsibility, professionalism and job skills), sustainable agriculture, cooking and nutrition, entrepreneurship, community service and social justice. These are meaningful job opportunities where teens earn a competitive wage, gain significant transferable job skills, professional experience and references for their resumes, and undergo profound personal transformation and growth.
FoodWhat youth are also changing youth culture around food. They are developing relationships with healthy food on their own terms. They are learning about its connection to personal and environmental health and then extending their new awareness to their families and communities. They are talking about their own power and looking at issues of equity and justice.