Group that operates flower farms in southern and western parts expands with federal funding

WASHINGTON PARK — An urban farm is getting federal funding to build a location in Washington Park.

Chicago Eco House’s Prison to Flower Farm project will receive $25,000 as part of the $1.5 billion omnibus bill signed by President Joe Biden this week.

The group has been transforming the lives of young people in the city and boosting the local economy since 2014, when founders Quilen and Hannah Blackwell converted a vacant gray stone in Englewood into the organization’s headquarters. Eco House operates four farms in Englewood, Woodlawn, West Garfield Park and Washington Park, with a sister farm in Detroit.

Southside Blooms, an offshoot of Chicago Eco House, launched in 2019 in Englewood. The program specializes in a “farm to vase” concept in which flowers are grown seasonally and grown by teenagers, young adults, and formerly incarcerated people.

The mission is twofold: to help the environment and to create a viable path out of poverty, said Blackwell, whose organization employs 50 young people a year and 300 in after-school programs.

“The purpose of the organization is to work with the most vulnerable young people in our city,” Blackwell said.

The $25,000 will help improve the Washington Park farm the group acquired last year, allowing the organization to grow more daffodils and tulips, hire 10 staff and serve 25 youth, the officials said. organizers.

The funding will also help Eco House meet growing demands from its Englewood Florist, 6250 S. Morgan St.

Blackwell said the Eco House team is proud to be able to grow during the pandemic, which has been difficult for nonprofits.

“When we were there, it was like we were drinking from a fire hose and just trying to keep our doors open, doing everything we could to make it happen. We made a lot of adjustments and adaptations to our programming,” Blackwell said. “It’s a crazy time; but, in the end, we were still able to serve our mission.

Blackwell said this is the first time the organization has secured federal support, and he hopes this funding will lead to more. In the meantime, he encourages people to support Eco House in other ways, either by donating directly or by choosing him as their florist of choice.

Southside Blooms also offers floral arrangements for events and has an e-commerce site where it offers bouquet subscriptions, as well as flower seed card packs.

“Environmental sustainability is in everything we do, from solar panels to products to rainwater catchment systems,” Blackwell said. “It’s really about preserving life in all its forms, human and ecological.”

Other federal funding coming from the south side:

  • $250,000 for the relocation of the Friend Family Health Center to Woodlawn.
  • $300,000 to help the Illinois College of Optometry in Douglas purchase state-of-the-art diagnostic and teaching equipment.
  • $20,000 for Longwood Manor Christian Community Health Center.
  • $65,000 for food and nutrition education programs at four schools in partnership with Common Threads.
  • $500,000 for programs in six public schools.

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Terisa K. Carn