Tiffany Lee has learned a lot over the past year. She's learned what to ask farmers about her food, how to handle a kitchen knife safely and skillfully, and that her favorite breakfast is 4505 Meats' Bacon Maple Sausage Sandwich. As a CUESA volunteer, she's a regular face at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market information booth, in the market's demonstration kitchen, and at special market events.
"CUESA's mission to educate the public about sustainable agriculture and food systems is one that I truly believe in and support," says Lee. "It's what gets me out of bed at 6 am every Saturday morning."
Behind the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, there is a dedicated group of supporters who help run the show. In the past year, CUESA volunteers have donated more than 3,500 hours of their time. Volunteers assist during cooking demonstrations, answer shoppers' questions, contribute to educational outreach, and help the market's many events and festivals run smoothly.
Each volunteer has his or her own motivations for participating. Some enjoy sharing information about our local foodshed, while others appreciate the professional development opportunities. Volunteers consistently express that their time at CUESA has helped them deepen their knowledge of cooking and seasonal foods, grow their skill set, and meet new people.
"I started volunteering in the CUESA kitchen when I was nine years old because I wanted to get behind the scenes," says Jacob Bindman, a frequent culinary program volunteer who is now a freshman in high school. "There's a great community at the farmers market. Healthy, local food is definitely important to me, and regardless of what I end up doing in the future, it will be a part of my life."
Claire Currie, another regular culinary program volunteer, agrees. "I think volunteering provides you with an education on food. You understand better how food gets from the farm to your plate. Understanding this allows you to make better decisions about what you buy and consume every day." She adds, "And if you volunteer at the market or at an event, you are guaranteed to eat well."
For CUESA, the work of volunteers is not only helpful—it's indispensable. Volunteers can be found assisting with fundraising campaigns, taking photos of market festivals, and writing educational content for the CUESA website. Next year, a newly formed outreach volunteer group will help extend CUESA's presence in San Francisco at fairs and events, giving volunteers a chance to work on their tabling skills and network with local organizations.
Volunteers also pitch in at CUESA events, like quarterly cocktail nights and the annual Sunday Supper. "Without volunteers, there simply would be no events," says Jenny Cole, CUESA's Administrative and Events Assistant. "From helping in the office to the contagious positive energy they bring, the volunteers are truly amazing. I've never encountered an organization with a more generous, enthusiastic, and extensive volunteer base, and I'm incredibly thankful for the support they provide."
In appreciation, CUESA occasionally organizes events for volunteers. Recently, about 20 volunteers enjoyed a tour of Tcho Chocolate Factory. Volunteers also receive benefits such as access to the CUESA library and discounts on some farm tours and educational programs.
But for many volunteers, forming meaningful connections and having new experiences at the market are their own reward. "I love volunteering at the festivals, where I've done everything from teaching kids how to grow plants to playing with baby goats," says Lee. "Volunteering at CUESA for the past year has truly been one of the happiest, most fun, positive, and life-changing experiences of my life."
Interested in becoming a CUESA volunteer? Learn more.
This article was written by Michelle Venetucci Harvey, CUESA's Volunteer Coordinator.