EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation is planting seeds for change by creating opportunities for young people in agriculture and plant science.

On Monday, the East St. Louis native and Olympic champion was front and center at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for her foundation’s Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Innovation Center.

“We were really trying to expose and show the opportunity that is in this space and allow us to work with our students in helping them to plant the seeds, nurture it, and learn where food comes from,” Jackie Joyner-Kersee said. “Then when you live in a community that’s a food desert … Access is everything.”

The center is a public-private partnership between her foundation, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and University of Illinois Extension.

“We are bringing our expertise in the area of STEAM and agriculture education for the K-12 level, including out-of-classroom experiences for the students, internships at the Danforth Center, and, really, support for students who go into agriculture beyond high school,” said Kristine Callis-Duehl, director of education research and outreach at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The JJK Foundation acquired a 12,000-foot facility that will serve the expansion of the JJK Center site, adding gardens, greenhouses, and cooking classrooms. Creating an education center in East St. Louis that will be a model for how urban STEAM+Ag education is done.

“This is kind of the big think tank around using plant science, agriculture, and nutrition as a youth and community development tool for this area,” said Kim Kidwell, associate chancellor of strategic partnerships and initiatives for the University of Illinois.

“Young people it’s very important for them to see themselves in their community and in their vision and in their dream,” said Darius Pikes, urban Ag scientist and STEAM instructor at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.