CJ Sapong Bringing Fresh Perspective to MLS

What do greenhouses, Philadelphia, and MLS player CJ Sapong have in common? They’re all at the heart of a new organization, Sacred Seeds, that’s tasked itself with improving communities through “education, sustenance and self-sustainability.” It’s the latest effort from the Philadelphia Union forward, who’s as bullish on his new venture as he’s been prolific in front of the net. To tell us more about the nonprofit, what it means to him, and what it can mean to our communities, Sapong sat down and walked us through his story.

Sacred Seeds is taking a unique approach toward giving back to our communities. Specifically, Sapong and his team have targeted nutrition, where the group’s “sole focus is using agriculture, gardening, and attention to the nourishment of the youth to try to build communities.” Sapong emphasizes the goal is to make underserved areas “self-sustainable and allow them to be components that can reach outward and make everything else as a whole collectively work better, smarter, and stronger.”

The organizational aims took root when Sapong began researching local demographics and nutritional data as a member of the Philadelphia Union. Through his research, he found many urban residents in Philadelphia were suffering from iron deficiencies in their diet. As a result, addressing this issue became the organization’s first priority.

At the same time, Sapong had grown tired of the notion that food is just here to maintain our youth, and that they’ll be ok with whatever they eat. “Why are we implementing this mindset in our children? We’re here to maximize our potential, and that’s exactly why we chose ‘Strive to Thrive’ to be our motto because we’re looking to do what we can to maximize our opportunities that the youth have to grow.”

To introduce his ideas, Sapong has designed greenhouses which will not only help to cultivate edible crops, but serve as foundations for neighborhood development. Sapong also aims to bring the process to life. “Although we want to focus on the nutrition of the children, we also want to make it as interactive as possible, educate them on how to cultivate on their own, what it’s doing for them, and why it’s important…It’s a personality and community developer.”

Sapong maintains a strong personal connection to his efforts. Growing up in Virginia, his mother used to grow her own food in their backyard, where CJ would sometimes help with the watering. In college, he then went organic, feeling the benefits of a more natural diet on the playing field.

His current call to action, however, was pushed forward by another factor. “It really took me getting injured. In 2013, I got a herniated disk in my back. I lost feeling in my leg. The herniated disk led to a nutrient deficiency in my neck and that caused all sorts of problems.”

The setback led Sapong on a hunt for answers. “Through researching what was wrong with me, that led me to researching how to fix it…As time went on I figured I might as well cultivate the food that already has the nutrients that I’m taking heavily. So that’s when I stumbled across microgreens.”

With a 2-week harvest period for most of the vegetables, where “you can literally eat them right off the tray,” Sapong also uncovered that microgreens have 40% more nutrients than mature plants. They’re “easy to juice, easy to throw in a smoothie, easy to snack on.”

'In solidarity we #Doop'

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His next move was to bring the recipe to those less fortunate. For the past three years, he and four childhood friends brainstormed ways to become involved in a bigger way. He ultimately decided to launch Sacred Seeds, with his collaborators now serving as its board of directors.

Having identified areas of need in Philadelphia, including a local elementary school, they’ve begun chipping away at the process. Through plans for a school sponsorship, the group wants “to use it as a connection to keep the community around the school really involved with us, aware of us.” The initiative is all set to begin once available land is secured.

The current focus is on Philadelphia, however, Sapong says “we hope to expand way beyond that.” From youth clubs to recreational activities to cultivating produce for performance, the objective is “individualizing what we’re growing to expand the reach to as many youth as possible.” That could even include Ghana, where both of Sapong’s parents are from.

For the long-term, Sapong has two aspects working in his favor. The greenhouses are designed to be completely sustainable, made “from recycled waste and powered by renewable energy.” Surrounding tires will regulate temperatures and maintenance costs will be minimal. The other factor is the engagement of the process. “There are phases of the construction that are fairly simple…we’ll have kids come, and one of them is called mud packing, where you simply throw mud against the wall. You get dirty, it’s fun.”

Going out of his way to get his hands dirty has been particular meaningful to Sapong. “It’s something about the feeling you get when you are connected to your food and you know from day one when you plant the seed the whole process is developing you to make you better, make you stronger, make you faster.”

His initiative to spread the message has made it even more special. “We feel like it’s good for the youth to have this knowledge instilled into them early in their development.” Although younger generations are the target, the project stands to benefit more than just them. “Everybody gets something out it,” not least of whom is Sapong. “It’s something that I truly feel and it’s something I know I would be happy to do for the rest of my life.”


Follow CJ Sapong and Sacred Seeds on Instagram @bigafrika88 & @thesacredseeds and Twitter @BigAfrika88 & @thesacredseeds

Written by Athlete CRUSH Staff

Posted 31 May 2017