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Bronzeville, Near South Side

A Group That Runs Flower Farms On The South, West Sides Is Expanding Thanks To Federal Funding

Eco House will get $25,000 to expand programs at its Washington Park farm, where kids, formerly incarcerated people and others grow flowers.

A woman helps care for zinnias at a flower farm from Eco House Chicago.
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WASHINGTON PARK — An urban farm is getting federal funding to build a Washington Park location.

Chicago Eco House’s Prison to Flower Farm project will get $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 the city’s youth and giving the local economy a boost since 2014, when founders Quilen and Hannah Blackwell converted a vacant Englewood greystone 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 according to season and cultivated by teens, young adults and formerly incarcerated people.

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

“The whole purpose of the organization is to work with the most vulnerable youth 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 employees and serve 25 young people, organizers said.

The funding also will help Eco House meet increasing demands at its Englewood florist shop, 6250 S. Morgan St.

Blackwell said the Eco House team is proud they could grow during the pandemic, which has been hard on nonprofits.

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

Blackwell said this is the first time the organization has gotten 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 choosing it as their go-to florist. 

Southside Blooms also provides floral arrangements for events and has an e-commerce site where it offers bouquet subscriptions, along with flower seed card packets.

“Environmental sustainability is in everything we do, from the solar panels to the produce to the rainwater catchment systems,” Blackwell said. “This is really about preserving life in all forms, human and ecological.”

Other federal funding coming to the South Side:

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

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