520: Quilen Blackwell on Urban Flower Farms.
Encouraging youth to bloom through off-grid farming on vacant lots.
In This Podcast:
We usually speak with food farmers, however, Quilen Blackwell is doing something so amazing with flower farming we needed to get him on the show! Learn why he chose to farm flowers over food, got community buy-in, and how he eliminated much of the overhead cost of a farm by working with nature (even in the middle of a big city). The flowers are a product of his true passion, which is teaching skills to at-risk youth and giving them job skills to better their future.
Quilen’s background in renewable energy and community organizing is well suited in his role as president of Southside Blooms where they serve over 70 youth a week at four sites in Chicago and one site in Detroit. Southside Blooms has the mission of using sustainability to alleviate inner-city poverty through a scalable social enterprise program that converts vacant city lots into off-grid flower farms. Quilen’s organizing credentials include work abroad as a volunteer in the Peace Corp organizing rural farmers in Thailand all the way to helping working-class residents of suburban Milwaukee attain affordable housing. He later worked in the biofuels industry where he procured feedstock such as used cooking oil and soybean oil for biodiesel production. Quilen holds a bachelor’s degree with comprehensive honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in environmental policy from the University of Denver.
Listen in and learn about:
- Why he chose to farm flowers instead of food
- The cost and considerations in growing flowers vs food
- EcoHouse and Southside Blooms non-profit organization and how they serve at-risk youth
- The job experiences they offer outside of growing flowers
- Solar and rainwater harvesting that they use to power the farm
- Bringing bees on site and fully utilizing their benefits
- An audio virtual tour of the flower farm
- Some of the youth whose lives flower farming has changed
- Why low-income areas are perfect for regenerative agriculture
- Getting community on board with your projects
- Creating a farm into a community space using events
- How to grow flowers at scale on a small abandoned lot
- How they eliminated much of the overhead costs by working with nature
- Their long-term goals for Southside Blooms and goal setting philosophies
- Treating failure as a cover crop
As well as:
His failure – He’s had multiple business failures before this one, but it made him examine his values and path.
His success – The individuals he has impacted.
His drive – To live his values and impact his community.
His advice – Don’t quit as long as it’s your passion.
Quilen’s Book recommendations*:
How to reach Quilen:
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