Whether you think terms like “urban farming” and “urban agriculture” are accurate (a discussion we’ve had a couple of times), there’s no doubt that the movement to produce fresh food in urban spaces has inspired a lot of people to start growing their own food. Could that inspiration extend to young people in poor urban neighborhoods looking for economic alternatives to criminal activity? We’re about to find out here in St. Louis: former publisher and Post-Dispatch columnist Sylvester Brown, Jr., announced this Summer’s launch of The Sweet Potato Project in North St. Louis on his blog.
A joint effort of non-profit organizations When We Dream Together (which Brown founded) and the North Area Community Development Corporation, the Sweet Potato Project is designed to expose urban youth to economic opportunities beyond drug dealing and other criminal enterprises. According to Brown,
This pilot program is designed to teach a group of high school-aged children that there are indeed opportunities within their reach. Young people will be paid a minimum wage salary during the summer to plant and harvest sweet potatoes, create a product and learn how to market and distribute what they’ve created. We will nurture the spirit of entrepreneurism in kids who will go out and sell their product and receive commissions after the school year begins. The idea is to show them that there are viable (and legal) means within their communities in which to make money.
There’s no doubt there are plenty of ways these organizations could’ve chosen to teach these lessons, so I’m thrilled to see that they’ve incorporated food production into the equation: the communities served by a program like this are also likely to be “food deserts.” Perhaps there’s a budding farmer or two in these neighborhoods that just needs some guidance and support.
I’m going to keep an eye on the development of this project; if you know of similar efforts (anywhere), please share them with us.