Players PromiseAug 20, 2019

Sacred Seeds: CJ Sapong

For professional athletes, injuries are an unwelcome part of the job. When Chicago Fire forward CJ Sapong faced his own injury setback in 2014, he turned a frustrating scenario into a opportunity that allowed him to discover a passion that hasn’t stopped growing since. Through his own health journey, Sapong began researching natural remedies and agricultural practices and was inspired to take his newfound knowledge into the community. As a member of the Philadelphia Union at the time, Sapong started Sacred Seeds with the goal of providing education, nutrition, and community building within the Philly area. Now, the fruits of his labor are paying off. Sacred Seeds continues to thrive as he manages things from afar in Chicago.

What was the inspiration behind starting Sacred Seeds?

My inspiration came from being in a place health-wise that was not conducive to my profession. In 2014 I suffered a herniated disk, and it ended up leading to a host of other problems. Your spine is obviously really important, and it was becoming hard to pinpoint where the point of impact actually was in my body. Naturally, I took the steps every player and a lot of people do and went the conventional route of taking prescriptions, but it didn’t work for me.

Through that experience, I decided to take over my own health. I started researching and learning more and more about the importance of nutrition and the healing elements that are available in nature. For example, I had cervical nerve issues and learned that sunflower shoots and kale microgreens can assist with circulation and that pain. Growing those is actually very easy, in 10-14 days I am able to grow and harvest them, and then use them for snacks and smoothies.

In this process of taking over my own health, I experienced the gratification of watching something grow and tending to it and witnessed the true magic of the Earth that we live on. That was really impactful for me and right away I started thinking of ways that I could turn this into something that I was doing to help people off the field. I have always wanted to be involved in the community. As professional athletes, it’s important for us to have multiple channels that bring happiness and fulfillment besides just the sport we play. I was inspired from my experience to look into different ways that I could take what I learned to help individuals in their communities.

How did you take Sacred Seeds from an idea to a reality?

The journey to get these programs started has been a lot like life. In certain moments, you might feel like it's you against the world, but that’s never actually the case. All it takes in those times is showing humility, killing your ego and reaching out to ask for help.

From the start, our plan was to go into underserved communities as designated by the USDA, food deserts essentially, and to start constructing sustainable agriculture. We weren’t just looking to build greenhouses, we wanted to promote the sustainable, eco-friendly, lifestyle. It takes awhile to have tangible things, but ideology is something that you can start spreading immediately.

We started right away with word of mouth and social media. Once we took things to the next level of inserting ourselves into the space and reaching out to other like-minded organizations, things really started to blossom (pun intended). Then, we realized that we had been thinking small, so we started to expand on the original vision. What we recognized was that it was kind of like roots. We all want to reach the sky and make sure that our roots are able to reach out as far as they can. Root systems also reach out and connect with other trees and plants . You don’t see it, but there’s a network that is entangled and intertwined. Once we got into that network in Philly, things really started happening.

via @thesacredseeds

What programs does Sacred Seeds offer right now?

We are at a point now where we have a therapy garden that uses aesthetics and aroma to bring healing. It’s safe to say that lavender and sunflowers just make people feel better. That was our first build that we did and it’s flourishing at Talon Energy Stadium. We facilitate events before the games every so often to promote awareness and raise funds.

Our biggest goal right now is our Sacred Space. We already have the lot, but we want to create an experiential space where members of the community in Kensington can either have their own garden, or volunteer to help further Sacred Seeds and partnering organizations' goals for discounts or free produce. That’s also the space where we are going to be looking to construct our greenhouse. The greenhouse will be used with the local charter schools to facilitate their STEM curriculum, which I think is huge. STEM Is a skillset and experience that once the kids are a part of it, it maximizes their potential. We also will allow local merchants and restaurants to donate to our greenhouse for portions of what we grow.

These things keep the community involved and engaged. Local restaurants are always looking for local food and now we are allowing the consumer to see that places are getting things from Sacred Seeds. We are taking the energetic equation to a whole other level. Now we have a consumer, who most likely is in a better position than most, that is realizing ‘Wow, the money I’m spending on this meal is helping someone in need.’ Our hope is that will inspire them to help in their own way.

Why is focusing on youth initiatives and having them involved important to you?

Agriculture is something that has become industrialized and commercialized over time. We tend to forget that this is how we sustained ourselves early on. It’s super important because kids today are becoming a little removed from hands-on experiences. They have technology and all these things that make life easier, but they are missing out on those activities that require hand-eye coordination and the experience of getting your hands dirty. There’s a lot to take away from the experience of watching something grow and knowing that you actually have an effect on its growth.

Regardless of what everyone’s opinions are, it’s clear that our Earth is changing, whether it’s climate change or global warming, I don’t care about the label. I just feel like it’s my duty to pass something on that can help not only the youth, but multiple generations after them. Because they are the ones that are going to have to deal with the issues that we are ignoring right now.

Beyond that, and this is something that I learned once I did it, nothing beats the jovial nature of a child when they feel accomplished and pick a plant off of a tray and eat it. While one of our main focuses is the youth, you really start to see how it works tenfold and it starts to reverberate back on the adults to the point where they are more willing to put kids in these situations so they can be a part of it as well. It’s a beautiful thing, and it really all works hand in hand.

How do you hope to see Sacred Seeds grow in the future?

In five years, I hope to see our Sacred Space completed and focusing on healing. We would have a sound garden infused with agriculture and an overall aesthetically pleasing space that will have all been developed by the community. Our goal is to have a greenhouse that’s providing nutrient dense produce to members of the community and is connecting merchants and consumers through that experience and connecting students to STEM curriculum. We also want to see a sustainable amphitheater be planted in the community.

Looking 10 years down the line, I want to take the same model and look at the data and transfer it to Ghana. That’s where my family is from and I had an experience there where I gave some soccer balls away to kids. I thought I was helping out and then I started to look at their environment. I realized that if I can bring a knowledge and a skillset to them, I believe that I’m starting a way to keep that knowledge within those communities for generations. It gives the opportunity for them to heal on a large scale. We want to start implementing aquatonics, if we take aquatonics to Ghana, we could serve a village of people and free them from relying on big water and power companies and even breeding fish that could feed communities.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this entire experience?

As athletes, we are blessed to play a sport that we love and get paid for it. But, we need to realize that as individuals, we have to heal ourselves. There’s a lot of guys who don’t have these channels and because they don’t, when things don’t go well on the field, that starts to control how they feel as a person. It’s necessary because it helps us heal ourselves. It takes certain sacrifices of yourself and psyche to play a sport professionally and handle all that that entails. Also, we have a platform as athletes and the unique chance to bring whatever interests us to light.

The more that youth have role models like us that they can look up to who are showing different sides of themselves and the interests that they have off the field, the more engaged they become. At the end of the day soccer is important, but it will end. Life will go on. You have to ask yourself what you’re doing to ensure that life goes on and its potential is maximized.

You can learn more about Sacred Seeds on their website, and can follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

Follow CJ on Instagram and Twitter.

Cover image via