This month, the North Area Community Development Corporation launched the Sweet Potato Project for at-risk youth in north St. Louis County. Gut Check spoke with founder Sylvester Brown, the former Post-Dispatch columnist, about the project and, of course, where all those tasty sweet potatoes will end up.
The Sweet Potato Project is an entrepreneurial effort that aims to provide at-risk youth with the opportunity to learn more about small-business sales and marketing. The set-up is much like a paid internship for kids ages fifteen to eighteen. The teens are working together this summer to plant and cultivate sweet-potato crops. In the fall, they will work in teams to develop product ideas for the sweet potatoes: sweet potato fries? sweet potato chips? sweet potato pies?
"The classes are broken up into sections," Brown explains. "The first section will focus on motivation and inspiration. The speakers involved will talk to the teens about leadership and self-sufficiency." Brown says the following week will be all about recipes, mass production of food, branding and marketing, all of which will come in handy when it comes time to sell the sweet potatoes. The final three weeks will be dedicated to the organization's Urban Apprentice Program.
"The Urban Apprentice Program is based off The Apprentice T.V. show," Brown chuckles. "The teens will be split up into three groups of five and compete against each other." The kids' mission will be to come up with a product that uses the sweet potatoes and then to develop a marketing strategy around the product.
Once the kids have their marketing plans outlined, they will work together to put the plan into action and sell the products. When asked what the profits from these sales would benefit, Brown says kids will earn commissions off the sales and proceeds will be funneled back into this program so that more kids can benefit from this hands-on experience.
"The whole idea is to show the kids they have opportunities right in their own neighborhood," says Brown.
If you want to keep up with the The Sweet Potato Project, be sure to follow its blog. Brown will be updating the site every week with information on the program's progress, as well as information about purchasing the group's final products.