Tamara, whose last name will remain anonymous, is a second-year participant in Brown’s Sweet Potato Project. She took a break from planting seeds in a bed in front of Union Avenue Christian Church to tell us about her involvement with the program.
“I didn’t enjoy it at first because it’s a lot of work and it’s very hot,” she said. “But I’ve grown to it, and now I don’t mind doing it at all. I actually like doing it.”
Brown started the Sweet Potato Project in 2012 because he wanted to empower young people like Tamara to make a difference in their community of North St. Louis.
“I really don’t care if they stay in urban gardening or not,” Brown said. “I just want to plant that seed of entrepreneurism and healthy, natural living.”
A former columnist with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Brown sees enormous potential for the area in what he calls the “food movement.” His vision is to use some of North St. Louis’ vacant lots to promote economic development and community pride through urban agriculture.
Accomplishing this mission, however, will require political and financial support that Brown says he is currently lacking.
"These kids have bought into the notion that they can actually change their communities, and that's powerful stuff."
The kids who participate in the Sweet Potato Project are paid for their work, but this year Brown has encountered significant financial difficulties that forced him to limit to the number of students in the program from 35 to 15. They do not have their own piece of land yet, and acquiring that land is what he identifies as the most crucial next step for the program.
In spite of the many challenges, Brown says this is one of the most personally rewarding projects he has ever worked on.
“The beautiful thing is it’s not just a summer job,” Brown explained. “These kids have bought into the notion that they can actually change their communities, and that’s powerful stuff.”