Chef Liesha Barnett: A Navy chef turned into a food justice warrior

Alexis Farris, Feature Editor

STOCKTON: The Edible Schoolyard Project is easily one of the most underrated nonprofit organizations that we have right here in Stockton. Not only does it allow kids to experience the joy of gardening and harvesting, but it also provides a place to comfortably learn about the importance of nourishment and community. The program began 25 years ago in Berkeley, California, and we are truly filled with joy and gratitude for the project making its way to the south side of Stockton on Ventura Avenue. However, in order for the organization to run smoothly, it needs a team of amazing and dedicated volunteers. One of those awesome volunteers is named Liesha Barnett (also known as Chef Liesha).

Chef Liesha has been working with the Edible Schoolyard (E.S.Y.) in various capacities since 2019. She took an incredible route to get there. When asked about her life before beginning her career with the E.S.Y, she laughed and simply stated that it was “boring”. She spent many years focusing on her education and family which has shaped her to be the right person for this job. She attended Arizona State University where she received a BA in Nutrition. In addition, she has a culinary diploma from the United States Naval Culinary School. So, it’s no surprise that Chef Liesha would end up working closely with food. Chef Liesha stated, “I never imagined that I would fall in love with teaching children. I am a parent, an aunt, and have always loved kids. But, I never expected to enjoy facilitating the classes with the kids.”

We need more people like Chef Liesha because she cares about the health and wellness of kids right here in Stockton. She has become a pillar of the community inspiring people in her everyday work. As she builds up the community, she is also acting as a positive Black, female representative for the kids that she helps. Representation matters, and it is without a doubt that Chef Liesha is inspiring young Black children through her work. However, it can’t always be sunshine and rainbows as Chef Liesha let it be known. Liesha said, “I have experienced all levels of discrimination possible in this industry (food). It has not been easy, but I have a solid foundation from my upbringing and a resolve to continue despite the challenges.”

Despite the hurdles that Chef Liesha has had to overcome, she has a long list of accomplishments that she’s achieved in the last two years. One of the most notable accomplishments is the curriculum that she created for her after school program with the E.S.Y. The program provides resources for children and their families. She started working with a curriculum designer to learn how to create lesson plans and activities. During the height of the pandemic, Chef Liesha had invented a program that was full of lessons that were engaging and fun for the whole family. Chef Liesha wants us to know that, “the Edible Schoolyard Project is here to serve the whole community of Stockton. We are here for you! Come to the farm and see us.” The Stockton community says, “Thank you” to Chef Liesha and her team because her program educates its students in how quality eating habits actually leads to better grades in the classroom.