From seedling to seasoned, Camden garden program teaches teens about environment, entrepreneurship

Kim Glovas
February 15, 2020 - 6:00 am
Kapow! hot sauce

Kim Glovas/KYW Newsradio

CAMDEN, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — In one of Camden’s poorest neighborhoods, a small garden is heating up young entrepreneurs’ ambitions. 

The Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET), a nonprofit on Ferry Avenue in Waterfront South, uses gardening to teach young people how to protect the environment and also how to create a business.

It hires local teens as interns to work in its gardens. Britiani Nestel-Morgan, CFET youth wellness coordinator, said the final product is fresh vegetables that are sold or used to make Kapow! hot sauce, which bankrolls the program.

“They plant the seedlings in the spring. They grow the hot peppers in the summer. We process them in a commercial kitchen,” she explained. “They are involved in coming up with the recipe for it.”

But it’s more than just a hot sauce production. Being a food desert, the vegetables they grow are sold at a farmers market in the neighborhood. Now in February, the organization is starting to plan what will be grown in its four garden lots. 

Jon Compton, CFET program director, said peppers are the starting point for many of their young entrepreneurs to learn a business plan.

“Kapow hot sauce is a component of the youth program to develop entrepreneurial skills. We talk about how we set up and run a business,” he added.

CFET also hosts environmental retreats for college service learning projects, and educates youth about environmental racism, since the neighborhood is near the city's waste treatment plant, a gypsum factory and two ports where there is heavy diesel truck traffic.

Nestel-Morgan hopes the teens become “critical thinkers and problem-solvers,” like 17-year-old Adrian Peralta.

“Youth are involved in the whole thing,” said Peralta, who has been working with CFET for three years and is now a youth leader. “They make the hot sauce, and we talk about what a sales pitch looks like, how do we create one for this hot sauce, how are you going to talk about this with people you want to sell it to?”