East St. Louis Unveils Agricultural Center Design

The namesake foundation based in East St. Louis of renowned Olympian and philanthropist Jackie Joyner-Kersee has shared design plans for a new youth-focused education and resource center for urban agriculture and entrepreneurship known as Jackie Joyner-Kersee Food, Agriculture, and Nutrition Innovation Center (JJK FAN).

Launched in AprilJJK FAN—born from a public-private partnership between the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centerthe University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois Extension– will be housed in a 12,000 square foot former office complex in East St. Louis, with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW) overseeing a five-phase construction of the space to include several indoor and outdoor agricultural demonstration sites on along with “a space for youth and community members to participate in hands-on training and certification programs related to growing food, agricultural innovation and nutrition to improve health and performance, as well as space for athletics and physical training,” according to a press release from the company, which has offices in New York, Houston and Charlottesville, Va.

Alongside the launch of the larger project, a groundbreaking ceremony for the first part of the center took place in April.

Non-profit organization based in East St. Louis Lansdowne donated the property to the JJK Foundation. The new center will be used to house the staff of the foundation and its win in life program, as well as University of Illinois Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and JJK FAN Center staff at the Danforth Center.

“Educating and opening endless opportunities for youth in STEAM-Ag in East St. Louis is at the heart of this collaboration. Even though we are three individual organizations, we synchronize and work as one,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is founder and CEO of the JJK Foundation, in a statement.

A recipient of six Olympic medals, including three gold medals, won more than four different Olympic games in the heptathlon and long jump events, Joyner-Kersee was born and raised in small-town East St. Louis. of southwestern Illinois located directly across the Mississippi River. of St. Louis, Missouri. Once a thriving industrial center, East St. Louis, like many Rust Belt towns, later became a slump in the mid-20th century and has always struggled with high unemployment and crime rates. In 2021, he class as the poorest town in Illinois. (Along with the greater area, East St. Louis was flooded by recent record torrential rainfall; just yesterday officials declared a state of emergency in the flooded city.)

The JJK was established in 1988 to inspire, educate, and open proverbial new doors for the youth of East St. Louis by providing them with the tools and resources to thrive in academics, athletics, and leadership. As the foundation noted, it aims to provide young people in East St. Louis “the opportunity to win in life.” The newly created JKK FAN further refines the foundation’s broader mission by offering community programs in STEAM+Ag, nutrition, food production, fitness, and more. Similar to vast swaths of its larger Missouri neighbor across the Mississippi, East St. Louis is truly a food wasteland though popular initiatives have been launched in recent years to provide its residents with easier access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.

As for the design of the new center led by NBW, it “focuses on youth engagement, athletics, health and nutrition, and economic expansion through metropolitan food production.” As detailed by the company, the design vision for the large JJK FAN campus aspires to:

  • Interweave spaces dedicated to sports performance, education and agriculture with the urban fabric of East St. Louis
  • Foster synergy between the three groups through shared spaces and collaboration
  • Create outdoor spaces and demonstration areas where the community and global citizens connect to learn about community-supported agricultural systems, food innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development
  • Create a campus environment that not only benefits young people but the community as a whole
  • Improves the urban fabric through stormwater management and the addition of tree canopy for shade and air filtration
  • Provide new and improved park space to the community for passive recreation
  • Create new connections with surrounding communities and the river
  • Invite local artists to bring their voice and that of their communities
  • Facilitate future growth so that as programs evolve and grow, the campus can grow with them.
  • Create a healthy and vibrant place for people of all ages

“This project is a testament to the importance of connecting human and societal health to the health of the earth and the environment,” Thomas Woltz, director of Nelson Byrd Woltz, said in a statement. “Through education and training, we can empower a new generation to manage the land and understand all it gives us.”

Joining the JJK FAN facilities in East St. Louis, the JJK Foundation has future plans to realize a larger sports and recreation complex on the St. Louis campus, including multiple fields for baseball, softball and other activities. sports facilities, as well as a 200 meter field and track, sand volleyball courts, an indoor street sports hall and a 100 meter outdoor track.

“The landscape and architecture will support programs focused on supporting ESL youth and sparking their imaginations to the possibilities offered by educational and economic opportunities in food and agricultural enterprises,” NBW explained.

The project is expected to be completed within three years, as a St. Louis-based NBC affiliate KDSKComment reported in April.

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