Washington Park beautification brings solar powered flower farm to South Side

A new flower farm is bringing a splash of color to Washington Park, and if the idea takes root, others could sprout on the South and West sides.

The farm, at 5211 S. Prairie Ave., was planted by Chicago Eco House’s Southside Blooms, which just a couple of months ago opened its first standalone shop.

That Englewood store, which helps at-risk youth learn job skills, has been getting its flowers from gardens it planted on three other empty lots across the South Side. Southside Blooms workers will tend to the farm, which also will provide flowers for the Englewood shop to sell.

Quilen Blackwell, president of Chicago Eco House, said the four-acre farm began taking form in late May. By July, flowers began to bloom. The farm uses no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers and has a solar-powered irrigation system.

The new farm is a “pilot site” for expansion. Blackwell hopes to create more farms across the South and West sides.

“Today is really about trying to demonstrate to people the importance of not just the communities coming together, but how we already have solutions to the most pressing economic, social and environmental problems here,” Blackwell said at a ribbon cutting for the farm Wednesday.

Quilen Blackwell, president of Southside Blooms, and Kari Steele, president of MWRD’s board of commissioners, cut the ribbon at Washington Park’s newest flower farm.

Quilen Blackwell, president of Southside Blooms, and Kari Steele, president of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, cut the ribbon Thursday at Washington Park’s newest flower farm.
Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times

The farm is part of a larger collaboration between Chicago Eco House, Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the South East Chicago Commission.

The water reclamation district donated 278 tons of compost to enhance the soil and “promote more vibrant flowers,” said Kari Steele, president of the water reclamation district board.

The farm is supported in part by a neighborhood enhancement grant from the South East Chicago Commission. That grant program funds groups working on beautification projects in Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn and Washington Park.

The farm also received financial support through the state’s Restore, Reinvest and Renew grant program, funded by sales taxes on marijuana. The program takes 25% of that tax revenue and invests it “back into communities that have been impacted by mass incarceration, the war on drugs and gun violence,” said Yaacov Delaney, program coordinator for the Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative in Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton’s office, which oversees the grant program.

More than 400 organizations applied in the first round of grant funding; 80 applicants were picked, including the Washington Park farm.

“It’s critical for people to see that something can be done, that … there are people that are willing to invest,” said Mariyana Spyropoulos, a wastewater district commissioner. “I think that gives people hope that it’s not forgotten.”

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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