CJ Sapong, one of the Philadelphia Union’s current brightest spots, isn’t shy about off-field interests that defy the usual jock stereotype. Happily a little bit hippie, he peppers his social media accounts with infographics on aquaponics, prayers for Standing Rock, and tree and chair poses on various scenic rock formations. But, until fairly recently, the forward says, he hadn’t totally figured out how he wanted to spread those vibes.
In his free time off the field, he knew he wanted to launch some project for the greater good, even though, he says, he didn’t necessarily feel his responsibility to do it just because he was a pro athlete. “It's strange, because I mean I realize that [I have that platform] now for sure,” he says. “I've just always been somebody that didn't want to hype that up too much.”
But then an ankle injury last year forced a helping of unexpected free time – and, ultimately a kernel of what would eventually become Sapong’s new passion project. Trying to speed up his recovery time, he dove into complementary healing.
“Learning about the spinal cord and how messages are carried through all the nerve endings coming in and out,” he recalls, “at that moment I realized the importance of making sure that all that is taken care of.” He dove deep into nutrition, particularly. “A whole new world opened up to me,” he says.
A labyrinthine journey through various natural health tomes ensued, with Sapong particularly seizing on the ostensible effects of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children’s overall health and learning aptitude. It gets more circuitous from there, but eventually, he arrived at his new nonprofit, Sacred Seeds.
In a nutshell, it encompasses the best kind of global thinking with a hyperlocal, immediate solution, so crazy, as they say, that it just might work. In a nutshell, Sapong and his board members – yes, it’s already organized and well into the planning stages – dream of dotting Philadelphia with urban greenhouses.
Designed to fit on a small city lot, the idea is to keep them self-sufficient with sustainable aquaculture (think, basically, fish swimming underneath plants) to produce healthy food for area children. The recipients, in turn, would learn to help keep the project going and so on. And today, it’s Philadelphia, Sapong says, but hopefully (in a not-too-distant) tomorrow, the world – he’s set especially on expanding to Ghana, his parents’ home country.
While tumult continues to mark the big national news of the day, it’s easy to like Sapong’s direct action in the community he’s now calling home as an athlete. And while some of it may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky, he says he and his collaborators – many of whom he met through traveling for soccer – are ready to move on their first prototype, which, he says, needs only about 10 by 20 feet of land.
From there, though, things take a Sapong-ian, uber-idealistic turn. The ultimate, ultimate goal, he says is to set up a headquarters powered by wind or solar technology, complete with a self-sustaining sanitation system and educational spaces. First, though, of course, is the real-life prototype for the community greenhouse itself.
It’s a lot to process, especially for Sapong himself, who’s just started a season in which it appears the Union will increasingly rely on him as a goal-scoring supersub. But the project’s reinvigorating him at the end of long training and matchdays. “The game is never under your control. All you can do is what you can do,” he says. “Putting in your impact on the field, but then being able to make an impact off the field, makes it a lot easier to go to sleep and a lot easier to wake up.”
To find out more, or see how you can contribute, find Sacred Seeds at thesacredseeds.org and as the @thesacredseeds on social media.