They’re turn­ing up the heat in Hamp­ton

Teens grow pep­pers and make hot sauce, split­ting money with non­profit preschool

Daily Press (Sunday) - - State News - By Matthew Korfhage A lim­ited num­ber of bot­tles of All Hands Hot Sauce are avail­able for min­i­mum $10 do­na­tion at holis­tic­fam­ilyso­lu­tions.com. The video can be watched at bit.ly/hot­sauce­v­ideo.

The sales pitch is ir­re­sistible: A dozen or so teens danc­ing to a song they recorded them­selves, rap­ping about the mer­its of healthy liv­ing and or­ganic vegeta­bles while throw­ing pep­pers they grew into a pot.

“Who got the sauce?” they shout. “I got the sauce!”

The sauce in ques­tion is All Hands Hot Sauce, a man­gospiked sweet-heat sauce made by a group of Hamp­ton teens from pep­pers they grew this sum­mer in a lit­tle com­mu­nity gar­den out­side the Hamp­ton Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices. Pro­ceeds go to a lo­cal non­profit preschool, and to the teens them­selves.

Or, you can take their words for it.

“My food is or­ganic, I pulled it from the planet,” raps one of the teens in a video they re­leased to pro­mote their All Hands sauce. “Fruits and veg­gies, livin’ healthy, that’s a ma­jor habit. We got all the sauce and for $10 you can have it.”

The sauce is a brain­storm of Stephanie Jackson and Adetokun­boh “Ali” Afonja, who, along­side mul­ti­ple health ser­vices agen­cies, run a non­profit called F.O.O.T., Fam­i­lies Over­com­ing Ob­sta­cles To­gether.

When Ali Afonja was grow­ing up in New York, he re­mem­bers see­ing af­ter­school and jobs pro­grams de­signed to give teens some­thing to do that wasn’t get­ting into trou­ble.

“Idle time is the devil’s play­ground,” he laughs. “It was al­ways sum­mer youth jobs you could get that would take you from the streets and pro­vide great op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

And so he and his wife had an idea. What if their non­profit hosted a pro­gram for at-risk teens (the Afon­jas say they pre­fer the term “at hope”) where they could learn to grow vegeta­bles in a com­mu­nity gar­den, then use the fresh vegeta­bles to start a hot sauce busi­ness? The

Hamp­ton Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices re­ferred the teens.

“I thought it would be great if we cre­ated a prod­uct from the gar­den,” Ali Afonja said, “so I ap­proached my master gar­dener, and a chef that’s also on my staff — she helped cre­ate the in­gre­di­ents. I felt it was im­por­tant for the youth not only to gar­ner funds, but also in­volve them­selves in com­mu­nity ser­vice.”

The Afon­jas be­gan the Com­mu­nity Learn­ing Gar­den in 2014 as part of their health ser­vices com­pany Holis­tic Fam­ily So­lu­tions, work­ing with clients re­ferred by Hamp­ton so­cial ser­vices. The gar­den not only serves as ther­apy for their many clients, but as a place where chil­dren can learn the im­por­tance of fresh vegeta­bles and a healthy diet.

And now, it could also be a place where teens learned com­mu­nity ser­vice and en­trepreneur­i­al­ism.

The stu­dents learned to grow the vegeta­bles from master gar­dener Zdravka Wornom — “Miss Z” to the teens in the pro­gram — who said she was at first sur­prised so many teens signed on to grow veg­gies.

“I think what hap­pened was a cou­ple of the lead­ers de­cided, ‘OK, let’s try it,’” she said. “Ali talked to them about be­ing en­trepreneur­s, be­cause he was very en­tre­pre­neur­ial even from a young age, as a teenager.”

Wornom down­plays her role, say­ing the teens did it all them­selves, from plant­ing to har­vest — and that all she did was give them sim­ple in­struc­tions. She also cred­its An­der­son’s Gar­den Cen­ter for do­nat­ing plants, and Mer­cury Mulch for pro­vid­ing mulch.

“You don’t know what mulch means to a gar­dener,” she said.

The sauce recipe came from Brit­tney Cal­lier, a for­mer so­cial worker who now has her own West In­dian-in­spired cater­ing com­pany, Pour and Stay Full. Cal­lier said she tried out mul­ti­ple recipes with the teens —and that the third one was a hit, an “is­land fla­vor” sweet-heat sauce with veg­gies from the gar­den and man­gos from the store. Much of the sauce’s char­ac­ter, she said, comes from the mix they grew in the gar­den.

“We threw an as­sort­ment of pep­pers they grew in there — my lord, so many dif­fer­ent pep­pers,”

she said. “Pimien­tos, banana, Hun­gar­ian, reg­u­lar chili pep­pers, jalapeños, ha­baneros …”

The re­sult­ing sauce, how­ever, is not over­whelm­ingly hot, she said: More fla­vor than pain.

They’ve al­ready sold hun­dreds of bot­tles of All Hands sauce — fewer than 40 re­main as of press time — shar­ing money with both the teens who made it and with non­profit preschool the Down­town Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter, which has al­ready re­ceived $1,000.

“Ev­ery step of this hot sauce pro­gram is good for the com­mu­nity,” said the preschool’s de­vel

op­ment di­rec­tor, Rachel Kuchta. “The fam­i­lies work­ing in the gar­den, the kids look­ing at en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills — and the pro­ceeds are help­ing peo­ple.”

That said, the teens were also pretty happy to re­ceive a share of the prof­its, Stephanie Afonja said, and also to be able to put up their “I Got the Sauce” mu­sic video on Youtube.

“Be­ing in a video, you know, and hav­ing that video on YouTube, most of them are re­ally, re­ally ex­cited about that part,” she said. (You can view the video on­line at bit.ly/hot­sauce­v­ideo.)

For Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices deputy di­rec­tor Sher­rika Ful­gham, who said she’s been watch­ing the teens gar­den all sum­mer out be­hind her agency’s of­fice, the pro­gram has also shown good out­comes for teens who’ve had be­hav­ioral or anger is­sues.

Gar­den­ing helps reach teens in a dif­fer­ent way than more tra­di­tional sports-based af­ter school re­cre­ation pro­grams, Ful­gham said — in part be­cause it’s more in­di­vid­u­al­ized and more med­i­ta­tive, but also be­cause teens can see the re­sults of the work they do.

“If you’re liv­ing in a low­in­come apart­ment com­plex, the abil­ity to pro­duce and as­sist in a gar­den — you don’t re­al­ize the im­pact that can have on young peo­ple,” Ful­gham said. “They’re shocked: They planted this small seed, then it turns into toma­toes and pep­pers, and from the pep­pers it’s a hot sauce, and now a fi­nal prod­uct that’s be­ing mar­keted. It’s a sense of pride.”

COUR­TESY OF MAU­RICE KLEINMAN

Gar­dener Zdravka “Miss Z” Wornom, with a young ap­pren­tice gar­dener, at the Com­mu­nity Learn­ing Gar­den in Hamp­ton. The stu­dents learned to grow the vegeta­bles from Wornom.

COUR­TESY OF ALI AFONJA

A still im­age from the All Hands Hot Sauce pro­mo­tional video, fea­tur­ing the teens who made the hot sauce.

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