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Growing A Community's Future, One Flower At A Time

By Yolanda Perdomo, CBS Digital Producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's harvest time on Chicago's South Side. But not for pumpkins or other kinds of produce.

Vacant lots in Englewood and other neighborhoods are being cleared of bright orange, red and pink flowers, ready for market.

Flowers that would brighten any bouquet are the work of Chicago Eco House, a non profit to give kids a chance to learn about the gardening process, and others a second chance at a better future.

Kobe Richardson, who at just 19 years old, had a tough life of being, as he said, "hard headed," not listening to his mother, which led him to life on the streets. That's where he was shot more than a dozen times when he was 16.

Richardson found a new focus, away from his harsh past, which he said "was nothing but pain."

Chicago Eco House gave him a chance. And the results took root.


"Not too many people get a second chance. I'm just glad to be here and I'm just trying to make a change to my community and to the world," Richardson said.

He's one of the employees at Chicago Eco House. Quilen Blackwell is the president and founder of the organization.

"The whole point of this project is to create jobs for local youth and young adults on the South and West sides of Chicago, reduce blight, and convert vacant lots into viable economic spaces," Blackwell said.

Currently, Chicago Eco House has four farms in Chicago; two in Woodlawn, one in Englewood, one on the West Side. But there are plans to get more unused spaces to plant bulbs and bring in bucks to help those in the community.

In the Englewood garden, a double lot is used to grow brilliant zinnias, soft snapdragons, and more; including tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Blackwell said the flowers are direct-to-consumer through Southside Blooms, a floral company that provides arrangements small and large for individuals and events.

For Richardson, being surrounded by beautiful flowers gives him a calming feeling and he said the experience has changed his life. His favorite is the red-orange zinnia that has a bloom as big as a baseball.

"It takes teamwork to maintain a garden. It's like a baby. It takes a family, it takes a community to build," said Robinson. "So that's what we're trying to do. To build more (Chicago) Eco House eco-farms across the world."

The organization has also launched a Kickstarter site to raise funds for its e-commerce flower shop.

For more information on buying flowers from Chicago Eco House, visit the Southside Blooms website for details on pricing, availability, and flowers for 2020.

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