Dozens of Fresno adolescents put their entrepreneurial skills to the test by serving delicious sweet potato concoctions at the recent California Avenue Triangle in west Fresno.
The Sweet Potato Festival marked the culmination of months of preparation by students participating in the Sweet Potato Project, an initiative of the West Fresno Family Resource Center that works with primarily African American and Latino youth on leadership and entrepreneurial skills. The event was the first public sweet potato festival in Fresno, organizers said.
Some attendees said the event marked an example of “authentic” community building.
“I love what’s happening here,” said Jackie Holmes, president of the El Dorado Park Community Development Corporation, on Saturday. She added that the program is an example of “authentic community engagement.”
“This is not some outside program – it’s not like that,” Holmes said. “These kids are really engaged.”
Six teams showcased their sweet potato creations on Saturday for the event’s approximately 80-100 attendees to sample. Their dishes, both sweet and savory, included sweet potato cinnamon rolls, churros, mini cakes, donut holes, loaded potatoes, and egg rolls.
Will Fowler, a senior at Washington Union High School, said he came out to Saturday’s festival to enjoy sweet treats and to support his little brother, a current program participant.
Fowler, a Sweet Potato Project graduate, said it felt “great” to “get the whole community involved.”
Fresno entrepreneurs-in-training reflect on program
After months of learning business and entrepreneurial skills, and after harvesting the potatoes on Oct. 29, students were tasked with developing original recipes.
Ismael Pacheco, 14, said his team came up with the idea to make sweet potato cinnamon rolls – but the first batch wasn’t very good.
“We had to do them again,” he said, “because that’s what you gotta do – learn from your mistakes.”
He said participating in the Sweet Potato Project was a “fun” learning experience – and that he now hopes to start his own business one day. Most of all, he said he learned it’s important “just to be yourself.”
Fifth-grader Benny Britton, 10, stepped away from a busy morning of making fresh batches of sweet potato churros to share that the whole program was “pretty cool”— especially learning entrepreneurship skills.
But his favorite part of the experience was “this right now” – putting his skills to work, in public display, during the festival itself.
Thanks to his time with the Sweet Potato Project, he said he’d like to be a teacher one day or own a bakery.
Jazza’Nay Walker, 15, a tenth grader at Edison High, said what she liked most about the experience was the combination of social skills and entrepreneurship.
“The best part of the project,” Walker said, “is making new friends and collaborating with others, and knowing how to manage working with other people.” She’d also like to pursue a career in agriculture in the future.
For Project Manager Patrick Hamilton, that’s what the project is all about.
“Metaphorically,” he said, the vegetable is a reminder for participants to “look out for one another.”
“Sweet potatoes grow underground,” he said. “They grow in bunches — they grow together.”