Incarnate Word Foundation Helps the Sweet Potato Project Provide Summer Jobs for At-Risk Youth

Incarnate Word #1 STL Youth Jobs program logo

For immediate Release:

ST LOUIS (Mar. 29, 2016)-Thanks to a social enterprise grant from the Incarnate Word Foundation (IWF), at-risk youth can apply for a part time employment position with the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) this summer. IWF has awarded SPP a grant totaling $25,000 of which $15, 000 will be used to fund up to 6 summer jobs through the STL Youth Jobs program.

Since 2012, The Sweet Potato Project (SPP) has recruited at-risk youth (ages 16-21) to plant sweet potatoes on vacant city lots. Students work a 10-week summer job, were they learn horticulture, marketing, business plan development, sales, product development and more. In the fall, youth turn their yield into food-based products (at this time sweet potato cookies) that they sell year-round for commissions. The idea is to teach urban youth food-based entrepreneurial skills they can employ today in their own neighborhoods.

“I am so proud that we have been able to offer teens a unique program that teaches them financial literacy, sales, product development, entrepreneurial skills and shows them how to take advantage of economic opportunities in their neighborhoods,” says journalist, former Post-Dispatch columnist and SPP co-founder, Sylvester Brown, Jr., “Our biggest challenge, however, has been raising enough money to pay the teen’s summer salaries. This Incarnate Word Foundation grant helps tremendously in that regard.”

Young people interested in applying for the limited job slots should enroll today with STL Youth Jobs at SPP’s goal is to hire 35 youth this summer. It’s seeking more nonprofit, corporate and individual donors to cover all salaries. The Sweet Potato Project’s summer program starts by recruiting youth throughout mid-may. Interested candidates, their parents and volunteers are invited to plant sweet potatoes on vacant lots throughout the month and into June. The actual 10-week summer job/educational program begins the first week of June 2016.


With Support from the Incarnate Word and Clif Bar Family Foundations, the Sweet Potato Project Kicks off its Landownership/Growing Initiative                         

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ST LOUIS (Mar. 20, 2016)- With portions of funds received from the Incarnate Word and Clif Bar Family Foundations, the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) has launched a North St. Louis land-ownership/growing initiative aimed at helping North St. Louis residents use their own or access vacant properties to grow produce as a collective. St. Louis University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics and SPP purchased the yields from all partner gardens. Sweet potatoes are used to make our cookies and packaged lunches SLU prepares for schools in the metropolitan area. Last year SPP partnered with three community gardens and we wish to expand in 2016.

Since 2012, the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) has recruited at-risk youth to plant sweet potatoes on vacant city lots. The youth work a 10-week summer job were they learn horticulture, marketing, business plan development, sales, product development and other skills. In the fall, youth turn their yield into food-based products (at this time sweet potato cookies) that they sell year-round. The idea is to teach urban youth food-based entrepreneurial skills they can employ today.

SPP vacant lot-Sample

“Giving kids the tools to be entrepreneurs in their own neighborhoods is wonderful,” says journalist, former Post-Dispatch columnist and SPP co-founder, Sylvester Brown, Jr., “however, we also have to build environments in those neighborhoods to guarantee their success.”

Brown says they are expanding SPP’s efforts to recruit at least 25 partner gardeners comprised of churches, public schools and individual land-owners. The long-term goal, he adds, is to build a collective, food-based economic system in North St. Louis.

Church lot #2

Union Ave. Church (733 Union Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63108) has joined the collaborative, allowing SPP youth to plant sweet potatoes on a large lot adjacent to the church starting in late May.

The more than 8,000 vacant properties in the City of St. Louis alone equates to food-based opportunity, Brown said, adding that SPP is actively reaching out to politicians, corporations, educational institutions and funders to make owning and testing sites and growing healthy healthy food as easy as possible for low-income youth, adults and communities in North St. Louis.

To learn more, or get involved with the The Sweet Potato Project, please visit our website at:



Sweet Potato Project stimulates economic activity in North St. Louis by teaching entrepreneurship to 25-30 teens over a year. These teens plant, take care of, harvest and bake with sweet potatoes. They then sell their products and are able to make money legally through the promotion of healthy lifestyles in their neighborhoods. In addition, they learn entrepreneurial and business skills in workshops and classes:


Sweet Potato Project offers kids chance to grow

St. Louis Post-Dispatch / June 22, 2014 / By Ymani Wince 314-340-8304

June 9th photos-#9

Steve Jenkins, head chef of St. Louis University’s Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program speaks to the Sweet Potato Project youth about the week’s lessons. – photo by Sylvester Brown

A project in north St. Louis aims to help kids grow as they raise a sweet potato crop.

Sweet Potato Project founder Sylvester Brown Jr. says the program was born out of an idea to help build up the north St. Louis community by allowing youth to “take a look at their environment through the lens of entrepreneurs.”

While the program lasts 10 weeks during the summer, the students will return in October to harvest the sweet potatoes and make cookies to sell online and in their neighborhoods.

Sweet potatoes are a staple in many black households, Brown said. “I grew up on them,” he said.

The Sweet Potato Project offers inner-city youth the opportunity to learn about urban agriculture, entrepreneurship and teamwork. The program incorporates training in farming, marketing, sales and personal development. For each week completed, participants receive a minimum-wage salary for their work.

Zavier Menears, 16, is in his second year of working with the project. He said a major factor for getting involved was to stay out of trouble.

“It has taught me a lot about responsibility and discipline,” he said. (full story here)


Young Entrepreneurs Plant Sweet Potatoes in Missouri Botanical Garden MoBot logo

NPR MoBot Photo

Sweet potatoes planted by St. Louis teens now have their own plot in the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Young members of an effort called the Sweet Potato Project planted seedlings on Saturday, joined by Garden leaders and other supporters. The project teaches teens from north St. Louis how to grow sweet potatoes sustainable, mainly in vacant lots, and then how to brand and sell sweet potato products. Founder Sylvester Brown, Jr., says it’s heartening that institutions like the Botanical Garden and the North Area Community Development Corporation support the project. (full story here)




On Saturday, May 31st and Saturday, June 7th, the Sweet Potato Project will begin recruiting young people (ages 15-with worker’s permit-through 19) for its 2014 program. Classes will begin Monday, May 9th at the William J. Harrison Education Center (3140 Cass Ave.,St. Louis, MO 63106). Potential recruits should be prepared to work at least two hours with no pay starting at 10 am at Clay Elementary‘s garden (3428 N 14th St. , St Louis, MO 63107) and at Cote Brilliante School’s garden (4602 Cottage Ave., 63113) at 11:30 am. Students will be interviewed and sent home with an application. Volunteers and adults are welcome to come out and work with staff and students. Next week’s gardens will be posted here. For more information call Sylvester Brown/Executive Director (314-341-4071)


Sweet Potato Project aims to bring agribusiness to North St. Louis

Goodfellow #4

Sweet Potato partner lot at 3303 Goodfellow in North St. Louis

St. Louis American / May 7, 2014

I was born at a pivotal time in history when civil rights legislation came to fruition. African Americans won equal access to education, jobs and housing. The downside of these monumental victories was that millions of middle- and working-class black families left areas where they or their parents had built and supported schools, businesses and neighborhoods.

The young people we dismiss today didn’t create the mess we left for them. It’s not their fault that the poverty rate in majority-black neighborhoods has basically remained the same for almost 50 years. We live in a society that has snoozed while the majority of minority children end up in poverty, with many selling or using illegal drugs, ending up in prison or destined for early graves.

The answer to saving young people and building safe, sustainable neighborhoods is to bring community back to long-ignored communities. (full story here)


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