The Background on Brainfood


Like learning about, experimenting with, or just plain old eating, food? Then you’ll love DDG's featured organization this week.

Suzanne Isack founded Brainfood in 1999 with the goal of “using food and cooking to provide high school-aged youth with structured activities during non-school hours”.

Brainfood programs teaches life skills and raise self-expectations through one of the oldest and central human traditions: the act of making your own food.  Brainfood’s variety of  programs teach young people the importance of healthy eating and nutrition while giving them a role in their community and an outlet for their voice.  Most importantly, they get to learn to make AND eat recipes like banana bread muffins, samosas and Shepherd’s pie.  The programs also include restaurant visits and working with guest chefs from some of DC’s most popular restaurants.

Mediterranean quinoa burgers prepared by Brainfood students

Mediterranean quinoa burgers prepared by Brainfood students

The programs are designed to meet the “capacities, strengths, and development needs of youth,” according to the oganization’s website, providing them with an environment where they can take risks without fear of failure and can learn new skills.  In turn, Brainfood’s students are better equipped to make change in their own communities.

 “One of the things that’s really stood out to me over the years I’ve been involved here is how community-oriented our students are without prompting,” said Carina Gervacio, a program director at the organization. “ It was a pleasant surprise how many of them want to take the skills they’ve learned and turn around and give them back to their friends and family. We are just giving them a place to shine.”

In May 2015, Brainfood opened its first retail space in Union Market called Brainfood Homegrown. The space is run by a graduate of the program and sells produce and foods prepared by Brainfood classes.

Brainfood Homegrown currently also offers a CSA pickup program on Saturdays and Sundays.

Photo courtesy of Brainfood

Photo courtesy of Brainfood

“We really felt like this opportunity is another way for our graduates to gain experience building their skills, and it also provides our organization with a little more leverage to expand at our own pace outside the typical funding cycle of a non-profit,” said Carina, Come get the homemade kale chips at the Union Market Stand while they last!

Looking further into the future, Brainfood is planning to create more ways for recent grads to get involved in the organization and have an even more empowering experience. They want to give their graduates a launching pad toward the next steps in their lives, building off the nutrition and healthy eating skills they learned in their first years in the program and segueing towards learning about being a responsible employee and gaining sales and retail experience.

Brainfood’s success as an organization promoting youth development has not been lost on the larger DC community. In 2013, the non-profit was the recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Sustainability. (Next)


About the Author: Marisa Weidner is a graduate of The College of William and Mary. She has volunteered as a teacher in Belize, and in homeless shelters in the United States. Marisa chronicles her explorations of DC on her blog, The Curated City