2015 and 2016 were challenging years for the Sweet Potato Project. We were severely underfunded and had to adjust our summer programming to focus solely on our veteran students and a few new recruits. Actually, this gave us the opportunity to restructure our operation and focus more on creating a dependable, alternative funding stream for the program through product development and sales. With this in mind, we shifted slightly from our traditional curriculum.
Our students received a summer salary ($9 per hour) for ten weeks to focus on personal development, product creation, marketing, sales development, community awareness and neighborhood revitalization through food-based economics. We visited different departments of St. Louis University, Ranken Technical College and had discussion with several entrepreneurs throughout St. Louis. Additionally, we put more attention on creating professional teams comprised of talented and eager students who are now ready to bake, sell and distribute products (cookies) on a larger and more consistent scale throughout the year.
What follows is a photo review of the 2015 Sweet Potato Project summer program.
As in prior years, students started the summer by planting sweet potatoes. We were not able to raise the funds to secure our own land so, in 2016, SPP introduced the “Land Ownership” initiative. The collaborative is aimed at introducing food-based economic activity in North St. Louis. To that end, we partnered with community farmers to grow produce. Our students helped plant sweet potatoes on these spaces. In the fall, at harvest time, we will buy the produce from the community farmers and use it to make more food-based products (sweet potato cookies and more).
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Every great dream begins with a dreamer.
Always remember, you have within you
the strength, the patience, and the passion
to reach for the stars to change the world.
— Harriet Tubman
One of the first things we do every summer is focus on youth as individuals. The idea is to get them interacting with one another. Then we help them hone in own their individual strengths through an online assessment test. This summer we selected a self-improvement chapter from New York Time’s best-selling author Chef Jeff Henderson’s book “If You Can See it, You can Be it: Twelve Street Smart Lessons for Success.” In order to make the “impossible possible” and turn dreams into reality, you have to keep those dreams “locked in your mind’s eye,” Henderson wrote. One way to do that is to create “Treasure Maps” or “Dream Boards.” Simply put, youth created boards with photos that represent their ambitions and hopes. Our desire is that they post the boards in their homes as daily motivation as they work to toward their dreams.
The first hour of most mornings were dedicated to reading, watching and discussing news and media events. We believe future entrepreneurs should be aware and able to discuss things happening in and outside their worlds. These morning conversations gave students the opportunity to express their personal feelings about crime, poverty, police and to discover new technological advances and the power of social media.
EDUCATION & CAREER OPTIONS
This summer students visited Ranken Technical School, St. Louis University and the Community College system to explore careers in technical education, culinary arts and entrepreneurship. Our goal is to expose them to viable educational options where they could pursue careers while developing immediate money-making options. Special thanks to Admissions Counselor, Mark Fields for conducting the Ranken visit.
Special thanks to Pro. Grant C. Black,director with the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education. Black visited our classes to hold the “Mad City Money” experiential learning program. The course, based on a hands-on financial simulation developed by the Credit Union National Association helped students experiment with financial challenges by getting a taste of the real world as adults – complete with occupation, salary, family, student loan and credit card debts, and medical insurance payments. Students had to select housing, transportation, food, household necessities, clothing, day care, and other “wants and needs,” while creating and following a realistic budget.
Due to class size, we were able to conduct more “Neighborhood Walks” this summer. With note books and pens in hand, students are taken to different parts of the city to note what they see; business signs, types of businesses, advertisements, neighborhood housings and other demographic indicators that factor into strong, robust or weak and vulnerable neighborhoods. Students are instructed to write essays about the “Walks” (click here). The goal is open their eyes to opportunities and challenges they may face as they build businesses and seek to improve conditions in low-income North St. Louis neighborhoods.
Throughout the summer, students held frank and informative conversations with several entrepreneurs and business owners
Under the guidance of St. Louis University’s Chefs, Steve Jenkins and Bryan Rogers with the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition, students went to the university to learn how to execute recipes, communicate with teammates and clean their cooking stations. Additionally, students are learning how to bake professionally, market, sell and create an accounting system for the food-based products they will sell year-round.
For the past four years, we have challenged our students to see themselves to be young pioneers of a massive food movement in North St. Louis. Our long-term goals are massive farming with residents securing vacant lots to grow food. We envision farmers markets, a food manufacturing plant to package, prepare and distribute food and food-based products. The Sweet Potato Project students are ready and anxiously willing to do their part. The summer is over and we’re moving forward despite the challenges. We can do all we seek to do and more with your continued support. Please donate (click here) to the Sweet Potato Project today.
Thank you! – Sylvester Brown, Jr. / Director
THE NEXT STEP