Business is booming on the south and west sides for an eco-friendly florist | Black Voices | Chicago News

Young Englewood resident Eric Sanders has spent the summer on local flower farms growing seeds to a brilliant, wild bloom. He says the work gave him a new perspective on flowers.

“It made me look at plants and flowers differently. Like I’m taking more care of them, ”Sanders said. “Sometimes when I was younger I would just shoot them, but then I was like ‘I work in a flower shop now.'”

Sanders and his fellow flower growers are employees of the Southside Blooms Vase Farm florist, based in Englewood.

“Making bouquets and the process of growing flowers, like learning how to plant them, seeing them grow from seeds and then become real flowers, that’s what I really love about the process,” Sanders said.

READ: Flower Power: the farm-to-vase movement takes root on Chicago’s south and west sides

Most flowers have to go a long way before they become a bouquet. Southside Blooms flowers make their debut on the farms that dot the south and west sides of town.

(WTTW News)

“In the flower industry, 80% of flowers actually come from overseas and two-thirds of these come from Central and South America,” said Quilen Blackwell, president and founder of the Chicago Eco House nonprofit, which operates Southside Blooms. “So when we grow flowers right here in town, where people buy them, we cut a lot of those long transportation networks. When you buy local, you buy from a local farmer, you are really helping the environment and removing a lot of what would otherwise support a pretty dirty industry overall.

Southside Blooms plants their flower farms on once vacant land, a practice that farm manager and engineer Cade Kamaleson says is central to their green mission.

“The general process that we take to create a flower farm, we focus on rejuvenating the soil,” Kamaleson said. “So we get compost from the city and then on the grass of the trails we usually have clover or just grass as a cover crop to help us. Clover is specifically a nitrogen scavenger and helps rejuvenate nutrients in the soil. We do not use pesticides or herbicides. So by nature we have a lot of natural and local plants here. So we have a lot of biodiversity and insects. We see all kinds of flies, crickets, butterflies and all kinds of bees.

It is not just the soil that they sow. They also help local youth develop their professional skills – from working on farms to creating and delivering finished bouquets to customers – with paid work.

A young floriculturalist creates a bouquet at Southside Blooms.  (WTTW News)A young floriculturalist creates a bouquet at Southside Blooms. (WTTW News)

“First of all, they learn soft skills, so our emphasis is on showing up on time, how to deal with conflict resolution, a work environment, work communication, all of those things. “said Blackwell. “But they also learn technical skills like how to be a florist, like how to be a farmer.”

“It’s very important that these guys get paid for their work,” Blackwell said. “When someone is working, it’s really about adding value. It’s about contributing. Our guys have a lot to add. They have a lot to contribute.

“I don’t think any of them expected to make bouquets,” Kamaleson said. “When they see that they are really good at it and they think maybe you should be a florist and this is an opportunity for them to continue – it’s really cool to see them see how they have it. really skills to bring to the table rather than just being workers.

Blackwell believes Southside Blooms can help create a better future for Chicago by adding value to its neighborhoods, literally.

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

“The flower industry is a $ 35 billion per year industry,” he said. “So imagine if 80% of all that money that currently goes overseas stayed here in places like Englewood and Woodlawn and West Garfield Park. And the differences it would make for everyone, not just here in the south and west sides – across town. “

And for Sanders, it’s a way to cultivate his own fulfilling future.

“If you have a garden at the back of your garden, you should try to do more for it,” he said. “Like putting a little more love in it. You might like it and how it grows. It’s good to see things progress.

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