Food From the ‘Hood: A Growth Experience : The salad dressing company, owned and operated by students at Crenshaw High, gives them a stake in a real business.
I live in Watts, but I wanted to go to Crenshaw High School, to be part of a school that was vibrant and active, not gang active.
I’ve been involved with Food From the ‘Hood since the beginning, October of 1992. Miss Bird was giving out extra credit points for her biology class when I was a 10th-grader. Being a straight-A student, I wanted to get as much extra credit as possible. So I went out and worked in the garden.
It was fun to work in the garden, and why not sell produce? We thought up the name: Food From the ‘Hood. We started giving produce to the local charities, selling it at the farmers markets and in the local community, and setting up a little shop in the front of the classroom to sell to the students and the faculty.
I hadn’t had any actual experience, but my grandfather being a Southern country boy, I’d heard plenty about growing crops. He told Miss Bird the kind of bugs that kill other bugs, when to grow greens, not to grow strawberries because they were too much bother.
Now we work with a salad dressing manufacturing company in Hawthorne called Sweet Adelaide. For the first mixture, we worked with their food chemist and we brought them some herbs from the garden. The first batch had too much salt, and we know we have a responsibility to our community because of the heart disease problem. We finally liked the seventh batch. April 28, 1994, we introduced our product onto the shelves.
When we were writing up the mission statement for the company, one of our goals was to provide jobs for the people in the inner city, and the salad dressing is helping to do that. We still want to keep our other mission statement of providing organically grown produce to our community. Last Christmas we donated 51 boxes with donated ham, canned foods, rice, macaroni and cheese, canned vegetables from Crenshaw High’s food drive and fresh lettuce, squash and greens. The garden is the basis of our company.
Right now we’re in the process of overturning our soil. We never have to touch the herbs because they renew themselves. So there’s basil, rosemary, parsley, oregano, mint, thyme, sage. We’ve grown lettuce, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, collard greens.
My grandfather cooked like nobody in the world, so I brought home some greens from the garden once. I cooked the greens and he made some neck bones, rice and gravy, and some hot water corn bread. I brought Miss Bird a plate; she got her fill on some soul food!
This summer we were literally swamped with office work. Everyday stuff includes invoices in the office, telephone calls, writing checks, putting the money in our bank account, writing thank-you letters.
About business in general, I am surprised at how complicated things are, yet how easy they can be if you demand what you want. It’s OK to be assertive and aggressive sometimes, it’s OK to speak your mind.
People have accepted the fact that we’re kids and that we have the potential to be business leaders, so they treat us like business leaders now. That’s really made me happy. Usually a person will look at inner-city kids, blacks or Latinos, and say maybe you got ahead because people feel sorry for you.
I want to go to Stanford University. I would like to study abroad. I was thinking of majoring in medicine, but being a student owner of a business, of course I changed my mind. Now I want to be an investment banker. I went from wanting to be a ballerina to lawyer to actress to doctor. I might change next week.
I’ve learned that I can talk so long about something that I really know about. I’ve learned that my temper is short, but I’ve also learned how to control it. At the beginning of my 11th-grade year, I was always in the garden. But now that we have an office, I’ve learned that I like working on the computer; I like brainy work.
In 10 years, I should be getting out of school and laying the foundation for my own business. Of course I feel an obligation to give back to my community: while I’m living comfortably, I’d like everyone else to be living comfortably. I would like to come back here and help out. I’m not patient enough to teach; if I were, that’s really how I’d like to give back.
The problem is that we have raw talent in the inner city and nobody sees it because the kids that are here don’t get a chance to express their talents. Being able to run a business--that’s a talent that nobody knows they have till they get the experience. Acting and stuff, black people are already in that. Let’s go into marketing and computer skills and technology. Let’s venture into something else.