Food, What?!, Santa Cruz CA

“At Food, What?!, I

Words from the director:

Food, What?! is a youth empowerment and food justice program using food, sustainable agriculture and health as the vehicle for growing strong, healthy and inspired teens. We partner with teenage youth to grow, cook, eat and distribute healthy sustainably raised food. These revolutionary acts serve to empower youth to realize their full potential, to enjoy life, and serve as grounds for development of hard skills and leadership.

“Food, What?!” programs are held on our half-acre organic farm. “Food, What?!” operates year round and offers three major seasons of youth programming. A 12-week spring internship serves 52 youth, a full time summer job employs 22 youth, and 12 youth continue on in the fall, running different microenterprise or businesses off of the farm.  We use a graduated leadership model from spring to summer to fall. 

These opportunities include components in leadership training (with a focus on communication, responsibility, and transferable job skills), organic farming and gardening, cooking and basic nutrition, entrepreneurship/business, and social justice work.  We spend part of our time with our hands in the soil, part time participating in empowerment and skill-based workshops, and part of our time working to serve the greater community. Through all that we do, healthy, inspiring food is at the center. 

Food What?! is a project of Life Lab, at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Youth from the summer job program talk about what they’ve learned:

“This summer I have accomplished beyond what I could ask for out of this program. I’ve gained an understanding of what a community is. I have changed in ways that help me live more healthily. I’ve grown personally. In the past, I’ve always taken things harshly and beaten myself up for silly things. At Food, What?!, I’ve been able to focus more on the positive things in life. I’ve been able to do a really good job, work hard, complete it, and be proud of it. And that feels good. Being proud of myself feels good.” –CC

“I accomplished my goal of doing something over the summer instead of sitting down and playing video games. I learned to eat healthier than I did. My eating habits are better, to say the least. I eat more fruits and vegetables instead of junk food and fast food. I feel better when I eat healthy and when I eat unhealthy food it makes my stomach nauseous and irritated.” – Josh

“This summer, working at Food, What?! has made it my most productive summer ever and kept me out of trouble… I’m more confident in public speaking. I also feel like if there was a situation where a leader was needed I would feel confident enough to step up.” – Mason

“I really came to the program not caring about anything – I was doing it for the money. But over time, Food, What?! really changed me. I started to appreciate the ground for what it gives me. I have grown in very positive ways, learning about things like treating others the way you want to be treated, and caring for your co-workers like your family.” – José

“I’ve accomplished many projects throughout the summer, from making beds, weeding, transplanting, planting, and flipping compost, to improving my hard work and work ethic. I developed more skills in working as a team player and communicating with others. I’m mainly proud of providing food for my family and getting a chance to help out my community.” – Thairie

“I’ve learned a little more about farming and gardening. I have also learned more about myself and how to make myself happier. I have learned how to step away if I am angry, take a deep breath, and go on with my work.” – Sam

“I have successfully worked a regular hour workday. I have learned how to be a hard worker – I wasn’t absent one day. I have learned how what I put into my body affects it more than I think. I’ve learned how to speak to people professionally and I’ve really gained confidence in what I am capable of doing. I have grown in ways that are hard to describe. For a while I was really unsure of everything I did or said. Now I’m more comfortable with myself.” – Kayla

“I’ve learned how to be a leader, flip a compost, trellis tomatoes, plant corn and beans together effectively, irrigate a crop, cultivate crops, how to be more professional, how to do well when applying for a job, and how to be a better person, and make better life and health choices. I am more confident and I have more knowledge and skills.” – Jacques

“I learned a lot about myself – like that I can be a leader. The communication skills I have learned have helped me to express myself better at home with my mom and with friends and school. I learned that life is short, so make the most of it. We are the way of the future, right?!” – Natasha

Food, What?!
LifeLab, 1156 High St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Phone: 831.459.5476