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 sustainably, mainly in vacant lots, and then how to brand and sell sweet potato products.
“I’ve witnessed a lot in my short years of living,” says Marquita Williams, who has participated in the project since its inception in 2012. “So [the project] means a lot to me, because it helps me know I can do something to give back to my community.”
The program provides business training for young people but also helps generate economic activity in low-income areas. St. Louis Public Radio profiled the project last year.
Founder Sylvester Brown, Jr., says it’s heartening that institutions like the Botanical Garden and the North Area Community Development Corporation support the project.
“I think they believe in it because it’s just basic common sense. We teach kids how to be entrepreneurs,” Brown says. “We teach them to take ownership of their communities.”
The second phase of the Sweet Potato Project will begin in the fall, when the produce is harvested and the participants use their new business and marketing skills to develop and sell sweet potato cookies.