Over the course of the next five years, our efforts will focus on building a solid foundation focused on quality youth and community programs around urban agriculture, food innovation, entrepreneurialism, and college and career readiness. While the facility buildout will be over a five-year process, curriculum development and programming has started despite the challenges of COVID-19. Through collective efforts, the JJK FAN has leveraged significant resources and support for this timely and much needed mission!


The JK FAN Innovation Center is committed to developing a circular approach with K-12 students to expand opportunities in agriculture, food production and nutrition with a heavy focus on hands on learning and exploration of career opportunities in the food and plant sciences in the East St. Louis area.

Our key focus areas are:

  • College Readiness & CareerPathways
  • Food Access

CoLLAGE readiness AND career pATHWAYs

Collectively all organizations work together to create pathways for students and community to fund and persist in post-high school training that allow them to obtain career expanding opportunities in the Metro area fueling vibrancy in the communities they call home.

The JJK FAN is building a collaborative of industry, nonprofit, and collegiate partners to develop opportunities for K-12 youth and beyond around STEAM, Urban Agriculture, Food Production, Nutrition and Wellness. These career and industry immersion-based experiences include:

  • Life Skills
  • Exposure (field trips, workplace tours and career days)
  • Mentorship
  • Internships
  • Workforce credentialing programs and certificate programs
  • Scholarships


Food access is not just about putting food on the table but creating a food system that supports community resiliency. When local infrastructure and economies breakdown, community is limited on choice resulting in having to travel to adjacent communities for the most basic of needs such as food. Nearly 83% of East St. Louis residents fall within the USDA definition of a food desert with heavy reliance on public transit.

While the JJK FAN is committed to equip youth with thriving careers and life skills to actively play a role in shaping the future of our food systems, we are equally committed to improving food access and economic vitality in the community.

Through the JJK FAN collaboration, Lansdowne UP builds and maintains our growing spaces. They currently operate over 30 raised beds along with an active greenhouse with multiple aquaponic and hydroponic demonstration systems. The JJK FAN is in the process of building a 11,000 sq/ft passive solar greenhouse. It will be the first of its kind in the United States, modeled after a design in Calgary Canada. This unique greenhouse has the capacity to produce over 30,000 pounds of food/year with minimal electricity costs. The Lansdowne UP workforce GrowUP team is instrumental in the construction of this greenhouse that will be used for research and food production aimed to combat food insecurity in East St. Louis and beyond.

All grow facilities are integrated into youth programming where students learn to grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is also delivered weekly to local food pantries and is accessible to the surrounding community. Throughout the year 11-13 year old students work on their entrepreneurship skills as they implement a weekly Market at the JJK Center for families and staff. In working with University of Illinois Extension, students have gained skills in finance, salesmanship, leadership and communication. The youth market is a favorite at the center with proceeds going toward youth identified projects to improve nutrition and wellness at the Center.


The JJK FAN provides interactive lessons as part of the JJK Foundation K-12 grade afterschool and summer programs. Programs promote curiosity and engagement in plant science, urban agriculture, and well-being through improved nutrition and physical fitness. This includes engagement with innovative, sustainable food production systems along with programing related to high- tech aspects of the industry. It all starts with exposure and igniting an interest in science and agriculture. Through collaboration with industry, education institutions, and other non-profit organizations, we connect youth to education, mentorship, internship, and career and college readiness opportunities while addressing barriers to entry.

Through the JJK FAN Collaboration, we are creating a new and replicable model for addressing metropolitan food production. It will serve as a demonstration center where community members and visitors can learn about urban farming, community supported agricultural systems, food innovation, nutrition and wellness, and entrepreneurship. The value of this partnership stems from a joint commitment to education and engagement as the core of the program. Each partner brings expertise in and a passion for youth development, community and economic growth, and individual and family health and wellness.


As a collective, learning goals have been established that take a comprehensive approach to education in the JJK FAN STEAM-Ag curriculum, combining practical skills with theoretical knowledge and aiming to prepare students for academic success and meaningful participation in their communities and the broader field of agriculture.

JJK Foundation

The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation empowers youth in East St. Louis to achieve greatness by providing access to high quality after-school programs, safe recreational places, and caring, engaged role models. Through the JJK FAN Collaboration, each organization provides assets that together amplify our ability to provide educational and professional development programming in STEAM, agriculture, food, nutrition, physical activity, and entrepreneurialism to youth and community members at the Foundation’s site in East St. Louis. JJK Foundation has a full time STEAM Educator that is committed to helping youth win in life by fostering a love for science, technology, engineering, art, and math through interactive learning experiences!

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois Extension embodies service through initiatives focused on community, food and agriculture, economics, health, an environment. Extension provides programming and curriculums to East St. Louis, including 4-H clubs, Embryology, Youth Farmers Market, Seed to Table, Jr. Master Gardeners, Teen Cuisine, Eat Smart Be Active, and Organwise Guys. These programs aim to promote education an empowerment in the community in areas such as agriculture, nutrition,and healthy living.

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s STEAM+Ag™ initiatives aim to boost students’ understanding of scientific research through hands-on, diverse experiences. Our programs develop critical thinking and analytical skills, offering activities from geospatial technology and drone operation to plant science exploration. Participants undertake real-world science projects, including data collection and collaboration with experienced scientists, fostering a rich and culturally informed educational experience. Additionally, our workforce development efforts, including the UPLIFT program, provide JJK FAN staff professional growth opportunities through workshops and mentoring, while students can become paid interns at both the JJK FAN and the Danforth Center.



Phone: 618.274.5437 X10


The JJK FAN Innovation Center  East Saint Louis, IL 62204