Over 300 high schoolers from all over the county filled the UCSC Farm and Garden Wednesday for what is likely to be the years tastiest field trip: a visit to the annual harvest festival put on by the non-profit youth empowerment program Food What?!
The harvest festival featured pumpkin carving, apple juice pressing, squash tasting, diagrams and questionaires, chickens, fresh pizza, and a tractor pulled hayride, all part of a delicious crash course on nutrition and the in's and out's of the local and global food industry
"I'm inspired to eat more greens!" said a freshman from Harbor High, which sent her group of friends into giggles.
"But seriously, the pizza was amazing! I'm inspired to make my own now," she said, referring to the kale and spinach pizza baked fresh and served at the festival.
The harvest festival is the largest annual event organized by Food What?!, which is part of the non-profit educational program Life Lab, which has operated at the UCSC Farm and Garden for decades. Food What?! recruits teens from high schools around the county for a three season internship program, where they recieve a stipend and school credit and learn crucial skills like nutrition, public speaking and organization, which are all but absent from a typical high school education.
"In the spring you start as an intern, then you get a summer job, then in the fall you get a chance to run one of the fall businesses," said Doron Comerchero, the founder and director of Food What?!
"They are learning how to hold down a job, and the same time they are still learning farming and cooking, and there are huge nutrition gains by youth who go through this program," said Comerchero. "We hear a lot of the youth reflect that this is a safe space to try on new things, to grow into their personality and their strength."
Jose Camarillo, a 17-year-old student at Santa Cruz High, was a main organizer for this year's harvest festival. Camarillo said he joined Food What?! because he wanted become a better communicator.
"For me, it's hard to talk to people, you know? Even like right now, I wouldn't be able to talk that well, before I did this," Camarillo said. "But I've been working as a community educator, and as the harvest festival coordinator, and those are both talking jobs. They take you step by step, so eventually it just comes naturally."
Camarillo also said the program has changed the way he thinks about food.
"I've been looking at labels before I buy something. I never used to do that," he said.
The fact that Castillo talked about both food and a boost in self confidence is no accident.
"It works. Doing youth empowerment through food and farming and food justice is just an easy effective tool to connect with youth and help them grow into their power, and help them have meaningful work, and learn about themselves, and about social issues," said Comerchero.
For more information on Food What?!, visit their website foodwhat.org
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