Friday, September 30, 2016



That line from the 1973 Clint Eastwood film, Magnum Force, has new meaning for me. Begrudgingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that my skills are not enough to operate the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) effectively. I’ve given it my best but my best has not been enough to take it where I feel it’s supposed to be. Funding has decreased significantly; we barely made it through the 2016 summer program. All this has me thinking about my limitations.



I co-founded SPP with the North Area Community Development Corporation (NACDC) in 2012. I can honestly say it's the most rewarding yet challenging effort of my long career. We’ve come this far thanks to the dedication of a few dedicated volunteers, board members, limited nonprofit and corporate funding and generous people who’ve donated or helped us raise money to keep chugging along. But (groan) I’m almost 60 and can no longer wear all the hats of fund-raiser, urban farmer, marketer, educator, driver, delivery man, etc., etc., like I did just a few short years ago.

There is no doubt in my mind that SPP’s basic but powerful mission is worthwhile. We teach youth how to be entrepreneurs today, in their own neighborhoods. We give them a summer job where they plant sweet potatoes on vacant or community lots. Students (ages 16-to-21) learn horticulture, marketing, branding, business skills, sales, product development and more. After harvest, they turn their produce into products. Right now, they’re selling sweet potato cookies on commission. I am constantly inspired by the discipline, grit, tenacity and brilliance of the low-income youth we serve.

 

I’m a writer and I’m more than comfortable promoting and articulating SPP’s mission. I get all animated when speaking about the vision of blocks and blocks of low-income urban farmers who own vacant lots, youth and adults who grow, package and distribute produce and developing our very own line of food products. I try to paint an electric picture of a sustainable, food-based North St. Louis economic engine that supplies fresh food to schools, public institutions, restaurants, grocers and consumers locally and even nationally.



This crystal clear vision is my daily motivation. My real friends know that, if I truly believe in something, I’ll chomp down like a pit bull and refuse to let go until my vice-like grip is weakened by reality. After all, I stubbornly held on to my struggling but award-winning publication, Take Five Magazine, for 15 years even though it never made money because I believed in its mission to inform, enlighten and serve as a source of needed change in our community.

After five years, I’m in no way ready to give up on the Sweet Potato Project.  I am however, ready to reconcile that I have limitations and need to rectify the situation. There are people out there-some I know and many, many I don’t- who share my passion and possess the skills and qualifications I lack. You know who you are. If you’ve been feeling me but have been hesitant to reach out, now is the time. I’ve got about six months to turn this puppy around.

If you’re willing to bring your talents to our table, what follows are the specific areas of development where your gifts will be put to good use:

FUNDRAISING

I am the primary fund-raiser for our project. With the help of one of our board members, we do it but I don’t consider us really good at it. There’s an art to writing grants, getting corporate sponsorships, planning fundraisers and closing the deal. I need more than well-intentioned people; I need folks who’ve done it before; who have professional marketing and promotional skills, who confidently know how to navigate gatekeepers, reach decision-makers and raise the necessary funds to help a promising, grassroots nonprofit soar.

VOLUNTEERS & VOLUNTEER COORDINATORS

My eldest daughter calls me a “control freak.” I don’t try to be, it’s just that I’m not comfortable asking unpaid people to do too much. We need qualified and motivated volunteers but we also need people who are good with volunteers; who understand the vision and can delegate and follow up on assigned tasks.   

                  PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT/DISTRIBUTION



SPP has the opportunity to develop its own revenue source through making, selling and distributing products made from the food we grow. Through our partnership with St. Louis University’s Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, our students currently bake and sell delicious sweet potato cookies. We have consumers ready to buy and vendors (restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, etc.) who have expressed interest in carrying our cookies. I’ve been hesitant to commit until I’m sure we can deliver consistent quantities of professionally baked and packaged products. I’m hoping that a major food manufacturer will adopt this vision and/or skilled individuals will commit to teaching our budding entrepreneurs how to package, sell, meet consumer demand and distribute current and new products in a professional and timely manner.

SWEET POTATO FARMS



Part of our overall mission is to develop a sustainable economic engine in North St. Louis. We not only want to train young entrepreneurs, we want to help stimulate nurturing environments where youth and adults can capitalize off the burgeoning locally-grown food movement. We received a small grant to create a collective of urban farmers who will grow food, make food products at SLU and bring their goods to market. We need political, civic and corporate support to assist us as we attempt to help low-income residents gain access to some of the 8,000 vacant lots in the city of St. Louis alone. I would also like to have professional marketers help us promote and gain support for this grand vision. The major goals are to develop massive, inner-city food growth, make Sweet Potato Farms a recognized brand (i.e. Glory Foods) that helps people earn money and consumers know that their purchases will empower disadvantaged individuals and neighborhoods in North St. Louis. We’re hoping a major food manufacture or people with the needed expertise will adopt this vision and partner with us to make it sustainable and replicable success.



******************************************************

So there you have it; our vision, our challenges and our needs. The mission is powerful but I and our small group of fervent supporters can only do so much. I will be touching base with certain talented individuals I know, those who have written expressing an interest in getting involved with SPP and those who respond to this missive.  For the next six months, we will meet, discuss, prepare, restructure and put things in motion before we start recruiting youth for the summer and planting in late May.

There are good people in my life that have cautioned me not to write about the challenges involved with this endeavor. People only want to hear the positive or someone with more resources may steal the idea, they say. I understand that but it’s not my way. I’m human and I do indeed have limitations. Basically, I’m a writer and most of the blessings in my life have come from publicly articulating what is and what needs to be. Besides, I write because I’m jazzed by the potential of our disregarded youth and the possibilities of creating a grassroots template for real sustainable change in low-income communities.


If you feel me, then join me. With your donations of money, time and expertise, all things I’ve laid out and more are extremely possible.

******************************** 


       
 TEDTALK on Bringing Community back to Communities
Click button to donate online



That line from the 1973 Clint Eastwood film, Magnum Force, has new meaning for me. Begrudgingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that my skills are not enough to operate the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) effectively. I’ve given it my best but my best has not been enough to take it where I feel it’s supposed to be. Funding has decreased significantly; we barely made it through the 2016 summer program. All this has me thinking about my limitations.



I co-founded SPP with the North Area Community Development Corporation (NACDC) in 2012. I can honestly say it's the most rewarding yet challenging effort of my long career. We’ve come this far thanks to the dedication of a few dedicated volunteers, board members, limited nonprofit and corporate funding and generous people who’ve donated or helped us raise money to keep chugging along. But (groan) I’m almost 60 and can no longer wear all the hats of fund-raiser, urban farmer, marketer, educator, driver, delivery man, etc., etc., like I did just a few short years ago.

There is no doubt in my mind that SPP’s basic but powerful mission is worthwhile. We teach youth how to be entrepreneurs today, in their own neighborhoods. We give them a summer job where they plant sweet potatoes on vacant or community lots. Students (ages 16-to-21) learn horticulture, marketing, branding, business skills, sales, product development and more. After harvest, they turn their produce into products. Right now, they’re selling sweet potato cookies on commission. I am constantly inspired by the discipline, grit, tenacity and brilliance of the low-income youth we serve.

 

I’m a writer and I’m more than comfortable promoting and articulating SPP’s mission. I get all animated when speaking about the vision of blocks and blocks of low-income urban farmers who own vacant lots, youth and adults who grow, package and distribute produce and developing our very own line of food products. I try to paint an electric picture of a sustainable, food-based North St. Louis economic engine that supplies fresh food to schools, public institutions, restaurants, grocers and consumers locally and even nationally.



This crystal clear vision is my daily motivation. My real friends know that, if I truly believe in something, I’ll chomp down like a pit bull and refuse to let go until my vice-like grip is weakened by reality. After all, I stubbornly held on to my struggling but award-winning publication, Take Five Magazine, for 15 years even though it never made money because I believed in its mission to inform, enlighten and serve as a source of needed change in our community.

After five years, I’m in no way ready to give up on the Sweet Potato Project.  I am however, ready to reconcile that I have limitations and need to rectify the situation. There are people out there-some I know and many, many I don’t- who share my passion and possess the skills and qualifications I lack. You know who you are. If you’ve been feeling me but have been hesitant to reach out, now is the time. I’ve got about six months to turn this puppy around.

If you’re willing to bring your talents to our table, what follows are the specific areas of development where your gifts will be put to good use:

FUNDRAISING

I am the primary fund-raiser for our project. With the help of one of our board members, we do it but I don’t consider us really good at it. There’s an art to writing grants, getting corporate sponsorships, planning fundraisers and closing the deal. I need more than well-intentioned people; I need folks who’ve done it before; who have professional marketing and promotional skills, who confidently know how to navigate gatekeepers, reach decision-makers and raise the necessary funds to help a promising, grassroots nonprofit soar.

VOLUNTEERS & VOLUNTEER COORDINATORS

My eldest daughter calls me a “control freak.” I don’t try to be, it’s just that I’m not comfortable asking unpaid people to do too much. We need qualified and motivated volunteers but we also need people who are good with volunteers; who understand the vision and can delegate and follow up on assigned tasks.   

                  PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT/DISTRIBUTION



SPP has the opportunity to develop its own revenue source through making, selling and distributing products made from the food we grow. Through our partnership with St. Louis University’s Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, our students currently bake and sell delicious sweet potato cookies. We have consumers ready to buy and vendors (restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, etc.) who have expressed interest in carrying our cookies. I’ve been hesitant to commit until I’m sure we can deliver consistent quantities of professionally baked and packaged products. I’m hoping that a major food manufacturer will adopt this vision and/or skilled individuals will commit to teaching our budding entrepreneurs how to package, sell, meet consumer demand and distribute current and new products in a professional and timely manner.

SWEET POTATO FARMS



Part of our overall mission is to develop a sustainable economic engine in North St. Louis. We not only want to train young entrepreneurs, we want to help stimulate nurturing environments where youth and adults can capitalize off the burgeoning locally-grown food movement. We received a small grant to create a collective of urban farmers who will grow food, make food products at SLU and bring their goods to market. We need political, civic and corporate support to assist us as we attempt to help low-income residents gain access to some of the 8,000 vacant lots in the city of St. Louis alone. I would also like to have professional marketers help us promote and gain support for this grand vision. The major goals are to develop massive, inner-city food growth, make Sweet Potato Farms a recognized brand (i.e. Glory Foods) that helps people earn money and consumers know that their purchases will empower disadvantaged individuals and neighborhoods in North St. Louis. We’re hoping a major food manufacture or people with the needed expertise will adopt this vision and partner with us to make it sustainable and replicable success.



******************************************************

So there you have it; our vision, our challenges and our needs. The mission is powerful but I and our small group of fervent supporters can only do so much. I will be touching base with certain talented individuals I know, those who have written expressing an interest in getting involved with SPP and those who respond to this missive.  For the next six months, we will meet, discuss, prepare, restructure and put things in motion before we start recruiting youth for the summer and planting in late May.

There are good people in my life that have cautioned me not to write about the challenges involved with this endeavor. People only want to hear the positive or someone with more resources may steal the idea, they say. I understand that but it’s not my way. I’m human and I do indeed have limitations. Basically, I’m a writer and most of the blessings in my life have come from publicly articulating what is and what needs to be. Besides, I write because I’m jazzed by the potential of our disregarded youth and the possibilities of creating a grassroots template for real sustainable change in low-income communities.


If you feel me, then join me. With your donations of money, time and expertise, all things I’ve laid out and more are extremely possible.

******************************** 




Click button to donate online TEDTALK on Bringing Community back to Communities
Click button to donate online

The Sweet Potato Project and Facing My Limitations



That line from the 1973 Clint Eastwood film, Magnum Force, has new meaning for me. Begrudgingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that my skills are not enough to operate the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) effectively. I’ve given it my best but my best has not been enough to take it where I feel it’s supposed to be. Funding has decreased significantly; we barely made it through the 2016 summer program. All this has me thinking about my limitations.



I co-founded SPP with the North Area Community Development Corporation (NACDC) in 2012. I can honestly say it's the most rewarding yet challenging effort of my long career. We’ve come this far thanks to the dedication of a few dedicated volunteers, board members, limited nonprofit and corporate funding and generous people who’ve donated or helped us raise money to keep chugging along. But (groan) I’m almost 60 and can no longer wear all the hats of fund-raiser, urban farmer, marketer, educator, driver, delivery man, etc., etc., like I did just a few short years ago.

There is no doubt in my mind that SPP’s basic but powerful mission is worthwhile. We teach youth how to be entrepreneurs today, in their own neighborhoods. We give them a summer job where they plant sweet potatoes on vacant or community lots. Students (ages 16-to-21) learn horticulture, marketing, branding, business skills, sales, product development and more. After harvest, they turn their produce into products. Right now, they’re selling sweet potato cookies on commission. I am constantly inspired by the discipline, grit, tenacity and brilliance of the low-income youth we serve.

 

I’m a writer and I’m more than comfortable promoting and articulating SPP’s mission. I get all animated when speaking about the vision of blocks and blocks of low-income urban farmers who own vacant lots, youth and adults who grow, package and distribute produce and developing our very own line of food products. I try to paint an electric picture of a sustainable, food-based North St. Louis economic engine that supplies fresh food to schools, public institutions, restaurants, grocers and consumers locally and even nationally.



This crystal clear vision is my daily motivation. My real friends know that, if I truly believe in something, I’ll chomp down like a pit bull and refuse to let go until my vice-like grip is weakened by reality. After all, I stubbornly held on to my struggling but award-winning publication, Take Five Magazine, for 15 years even though it never made money because I believed in its mission to inform, enlighten and serve as a source of needed change in our community.

After five years, I’m in no way ready to give up on the Sweet Potato Project.  I am however, ready to reconcile that I have limitations and need to rectify the situation. There are people out there-some I know and many, many I don’t- who share my passion and possess the skills and qualifications I lack. You know who you are. If you’ve been feeling me but have been hesitant to reach out, now is the time. I’ve got about six months to turn this puppy around.

If you’re willing to bring your talents to our table, what follows are the specific areas of development where your gifts will be put to good use:

FUNDRAISING

I am the primary fund-raiser for our project. With the help of one of our board members, we do it but I don’t consider us really good at it. There’s an art to writing grants, getting corporate sponsorships, planning fundraisers and closing the deal. I need more than well-intentioned people; I need folks who’ve done it before; who have professional marketing and promotional skills, who confidently know how to navigate gatekeepers, reach decision-makers and raise the necessary funds to help a promising, grassroots nonprofit soar.

VOLUNTEERS & VOLUNTEER COORDINATORS

My eldest daughter calls me a “control freak.” I don’t try to be, it’s just that I’m not comfortable asking unpaid people to do too much. We need qualified and motivated volunteers but we also need people who are good with volunteers; who understand the vision and can delegate and follow up on assigned tasks.   

                  PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT/DISTRIBUTION



SPP has the opportunity to develop its own revenue source through making, selling and distributing products made from the food we grow. Through our partnership with St. Louis University’s Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, our students currently bake and sell delicious sweet potato cookies. We have consumers ready to buy and vendors (restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, etc.) who have expressed interest in carrying our cookies. I’ve been hesitant to commit until I’m sure we can deliver consistent quantities of professionally baked and packaged products. I’m hoping that a major food manufacturer will adopt this vision and/or skilled individuals will commit to teaching our budding entrepreneurs how to package, sell, meet consumer demand and distribute current and new products in a professional and timely manner.

SWEET POTATO FARMS



Part of our overall mission is to develop a sustainable economic engine in North St. Louis. We not only want to train young entrepreneurs, we want to help stimulate nurturing environments where youth and adults can capitalize off the burgeoning locally-grown food movement. We received a small grant to create a collective of urban farmers who will grow food, make food products at SLU and bring their goods to market. We need political, civic and corporate support to assist us as we attempt to help low-income residents gain access to some of the 8,000 vacant lots in the city of St. Louis alone. I would also like to have professional marketers help us promote and gain support for this grand vision. The major goals are to develop massive, inner-city food growth, make Sweet Potato Farms a recognized brand (i.e. Glory Foods) that helps people earn money and consumers know that their purchases will empower disadvantaged individuals and neighborhoods in North St. Louis. We’re hoping a major food manufacture or people with the needed expertise will adopt this vision and partner with us to make it sustainable and replicable success.



******************************************************

So there you have it; our vision, our challenges and our needs. The mission is powerful but I and our small group of fervent supporters can only do so much. I will be touching base with certain talented individuals I know, those who have written expressing an interest in getting involved with SPP and those who respond to this missive.  For the next six months, we will meet, discuss, prepare, restructure and put things in motion before we start recruiting youth for the summer and planting in late May.

There are good people in my life that have cautioned me not to write about the challenges involved with this endeavor. People only want to hear the positive or someone with more resources may steal the idea, they say. I understand that but it’s not my way. I’m human and I do indeed have limitations. Basically, I’m a writer and most of the blessings in my life have come from publicly articulating what is and what needs to be. Besides, I write because I’m jazzed by the potential of our disregarded youth and the possibilities of creating a grassroots template for real sustainable change in low-income communities.


If you feel me, then join me. With your donations of money, time and expertise, all things I’ve laid out and more are extremely possible.

******************************** 



Click button to donate online

Monday, September 12, 2016

When an Award Reveals Rewards

My reward was the crystallization of a major multi-faceted approach to real community development.

MC Tracey J. Shanklin with BSA founder, Melvin White at the MLK Legacy Dinner
On Friday, Sept. 9th, I was awarded the 2016 MLK Legacy Award for “Outstanding Service in the Community.” About four other individuals were also honored during The Beloved Streets of America’s first annual MLK Legacy Dinner. It’s always nice to be recognized for trying to do something positive but, for me, the true reward was the event itself and the realization that I am a part of a game-changing group with unrecognized potential.

I have to be honest, I’ve been besieged with doubt about the Sweet Potato Project (SPP). Our mission is basic but powerful. For the past five years, we’ve been working with at-risk teens to show them how to become self-sufficient and make money in their own neighborhoods. Students plant produce on vacant lots, after harvesting they turn produce into products.

Simple right?

I’ve been besieged with doubt about the Sweet Potato Project...Our funding has decreased significantly within the past two years... 

Our bigger mission is to help low-income people gain access to vacant lots, grow food and develop ways to sell through farmer’s markets, direct delivery or by selling food-based products like our sweet potato cookies. If hundreds of poor folk are growing and thousands are buying from local urban farmers, we have a shot at creating a real economic engine in North St. Louis.

Powerful, right?

Well, not so much-at least not for SPP. Our funding has decreased significantly within the past two years. Our students made it through the summer, with the help of a few individuals who hosted fund-raisers for us. However, it’s become painfully obvious that we can’t continue operating with a tiny staff, limited funds on a shoestring budget.  

If hundreds of poor folk are growing and thousands are buying from local urban farmers, we have a shot at creating a real economic engine in North St. Louis.

So that was the sort of funk I was in when I arrived at Friday’s event. The real reward, though, came in the form of inspiration through the activities of other awardees and some extraordinary ordinary people I know who are also striving to enact social and economic change in the black community.

Melvin White founder of Beloved Streets of America
First, let’s start with Melvin White, the founder of Beloved Streets of America. Melvin is a postal worker who saw a need and seeks to address it. After visiting the Delmar Loop area one day, he asked himself why couldn’t the street named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. be just as robust and dynamic? That simple question fueled his mission to bring economic revitalization not only to the MLK strip from Wellston to East St. Louis but all over the country.

Even though Melvin, for some inexplicable reason, has been ostracized by some black aldermen, his idea has been recognized nationally. Harvard University was so intrigued with the concept that they sent a professor and a team of grad students here to explore its possibilities.  That visit led to a partnership between Harvard and Washington University called “A Divided City: Urban Humanities Initiative,” designed to dissect and dismantle segregation in our region and across the country.

Even though Melvin, for some inexplicable reason, has been ostracized by some black aldermen, his idea has been recognized nationally 

Malik and Deborah Ahmed, founders of Better Family Life, Inc., were also recipients of a community service award Friday night. The 33-year-old organization is legendary for its work in crime reduction, home ownership, employment training and the general social and economic elevation of low income families. The Ahmeds were not only a strong reminder of what good things may come from being persistent, they reinforced my oft-forgotten belief that the black community already has the players and solutions needed to dramatically reinvigorate North St. Louis.

Deborah & Malik Ahmed with other BSA honorees

I sat at a table with Robert Powell, founder of the now shuttered Portfolio Art Gallery in the Grand Arts District. His wife Carol and Eddie Davis, former UE executive and founder of the Center for the Acceleration of African American Businesses (CAAAB) were also at the table. Robert is working to build an African American Arts District that will showcase, support and enhance black art and black artists in our region. Eddie’s organization trains people to open and successfully operate business ventures.


Robert Powell
My reward of that night was the crystallization of a major multi-faceted approach to community development. After accepting my award, I asked the audience to dream with me. Imagine a vibrant and refurbished MLK (Beloved Streets), I said, where people own homes (BFL); with dozens of black-owned storefronts (CAAAB) in an area like the U. City Loop where art and culture is part of the neighborhood’s fabric (Portfolio); where economically empowered landowners grow food that supplies the entire region (SPP).

The real reward was inspiration via some extraordinary ordinary people I know striving to enact change in the black community.

I was also reminded of the five or so food-related entities already working in the Greater Ville area on or near MLK Blvd. St. Louis University recently applied for a USDA grant to help fund these agencies. SPP is a part of that collaborative. If funded, there will be a food market, industrial kitchen to develop “value-added” food products and more urban farms in the area. If more funds were directed to these entities and organizations recognized at the Beloved Streets event, we’d have a huge swath of MLK in North St. Louis dedicated to empowering low-income youth and adults, job creation, home and land ownership and small business growth-which can all lead to neighborhood safety and sustainability.

There are basically two obstacles that impede this grand vision. First, as Malik Ahmed noted after he and Deborah received their awards, black organizations must collaborate, strategize and go after funding as a collective. The second challenge is the lack of vision among politicians, city planners, nonprofit funders and corporations. St. Louis leaders seem to have one model for community develop: “Let’s give these rich guys and powerful entities millions upon millions in state, local and federal tax breaks and public money and, hopefully, their success will trickle down to people in poor communities.”

Politicians have exuberantly signed off on developments such as the $16 million failed attempt to keep the Rams in St. Louis along with the billion-dollars to build them a new football stadium. Then there’s Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration project which will receive up to $390 million in tax-increment financing. The estimated $2.1 billion Cortex District and the $1.75 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s headquarters are all buoyed by tax incentives, deferred taxes and public money.

There are basically two obstacles that impede this grand vision: black organizations not collaborating and the lack of vision among politicians and city planners...


This is all well and good, I suppose, but if we’re leveraging the city’s tax base for the rich, implementing gentrification in North St. Louis and short-changing public schools dependent on tax dollars, shouldn’t a fraction of the public money go to sacrificing, struggling black organizations that are dedicated to empowering residents, educating young people and building businesses within the most disadvantaged and ignored areas of our city?

If we’re leveraging the city’s tax base for the rich, implementing gentrification in North St. Louis and short-changing public schools dependent on tax dollars, shouldn’t a fraction of the public money go to sacrificing, struggling black organizations

When it comes to sharing public money and investing in the black community, we’re up against a decades-old, stubborn, segregationist mindset in St. Louis. Still, I have hope. Can politicians-particularly black and progressive politicians-simply call for a time-out on doling out dollars to the rich and powerful? Can’t they insist on a little quid-pro-quo for their loyalty and demand that elitist city planners include black organizations in the mix? If those of us dedicated to enacting real, people-centered change worked together, perhaps we can help introduce a new template for development that actually empowers people to do-for-self economically.


These things and more are the fruits of an award that emphasized the potential rewards right here, today, within our midst.