Playback speed
Share post
Share post at current time

Transforming Vacant Lots into Blossoming Opportunities

Exploring How Southside Blooms Turns Urban Blight Into Blooming Possibilities, Employing and Empowering Local Youth

I’m not a financial advisor; Superpowers for Good should not be considered investment advice. Seek counsel before making investment decisions.

Watch the show on television by downloading the e360tv channel app to your Roku, AppleTV or AmazonFireTV. You can also see it on YouTube.

When you purchase an item, launch a campaign or create an investment account after clicking a link here, we may earn a fee. Engage to support our work.

Join the SuperCrowd!

Devin: Quilen, what is your superpower?

Quilen: My primary superpower—it may seem a little corny, but it's true. I would say it's love.

Devin: Hannah, what's your superpower?

Hannah: I would say my superpower is faith.

In today's episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Quilen Blackwell and Hannah Blackwell, the inspiring co-founders of Southside Blooms. They shared their journey of transforming vacant lots in Chicago into off-grid solar-powered flower farms, creating not just beautiful floral arrangements but also vital job opportunities for local youth.

Quilen recounted how his faith led him from an affluent background to the heart of Chicago’s South Side, where he faced the stark realities of urban poverty. This eye-opening experience motivated him to create Chicago Eco House, the parent organization of Southside Blooms. “Our mission is to use sustainability to alleviate poverty,” Quilen explained. “Chicago has about 30 to 40,000 vacant lots, mostly in Black neighborhoods. We saw an opportunity to remake our communities in an ecological way.”

Hannah’s journey was equally compelling. Her early experiences on a youth trip to the South Side left a lasting impression on her. “I could not believe in my country we had this kind of poverty,” she said. Moving to Chicago, she immersed herself in community work, eventually meeting Quilen and aligning with his vision. Together, they transformed their passion into action, moving to Inglewood and starting their project from their home.

Southside Blooms is unique in its dual focus on environmental sustainability and youth empowerment. The organization operates flower farms that are completely off-grid and chemical-free, using innovative methods like rainwater irrigation and composting. This sustainable approach not only beautifies the community but also teaches youth valuable skills. “We incorporate the youth in everything we do, from farming to designing wedding bouquets,” Hannah said proudly. “Their creativity and confidence blossom alongside the flowers they cultivate.”

The impact of Southside Blooms extends beyond mere employment. It offers the youth a sense of ownership and pride in their work. “They’re not just learning a trade; they’re transforming their neighborhoods and themselves,” Quilen emphasized. “Working with Mother Nature teaches them that sustainability can meet their material needs.”

Southside Blooms is a testament to the power of combining environmental stewardship with community development. Through their innovative approach, Quilen and Hannah Blackwell are not only growing flowers but also nurturing hope and opportunity in Chicago’s most underserved areas.


1. Background and Mission: Quilen and Hannah Blackwell are co-founders of Southside Blooms, a nonprofit in Chicago that transforms vacant lots into off-grid, solar-powered flower farms to employ local youth. The initiative aims to provide job opportunities and skills development within the floral industry.

2. Personal Stories: Quilen, originally from Madison, started the project in 2011 after moving to Chicago for ministry school and encountering inner-city poverty firsthand. Hannah moved to Chicago in 2005, driven by an impactful youth trip at age 15, and later aligned with Quilen’s mission to address poverty and joblessness in the community.

3. Operations and Impact: Southside Blooms operates both farm and flower shop teams. The farm team cultivates flowers in various vacant lots, utilizing sustainable methods like rainwater irrigation and composting. The flower shop team includes youth who learn floral design at different levels, from basic bouquets to wedding arrangements. This holistic approach nurtures creativity, confidence, and environmental stewardship among the youth.

4. Sustainability Efforts: The organization is committed to sustainability, using chemical-free farming techniques and compostable materials. They aim to reclaim urban blight areas and transform them into ecologically sustainable spaces, actively involving youth in every aspect of the operations, thus connecting them to the larger sustainability movement.

5. Superpower Philosophy: Quilen and Hannah attribute their drive and success to profound values—Quilen cites love as his superpower, particularly his enduring love for the community and commitment to the cause. Hannah identifies faith as her superpower, maintaining an unwavering belief in their mission despite challenges. Their deep personal convictions have helped them persevere and inspire change within their community.

How to Develop Unconditional Love As a Superpower

Quilen Blackwell's superpower is his unconditional love for the community he serves. Despite his background and initial lack of connection to Chicago's South Side, Quilen has dedicated himself wholeheartedly to improving the lives of those around him. His love, driven by his faith and past experiences, has empowered him to endure hardships and risks, ultimately fueling his mission to create positive change through Southside Blooms.

Tips for Developing Quilen's Superpower:

  1. Reflect on Your Legacy: Consider what you want your life’s contribution to be. Think about how you want to be remembered in terms of helping others.

  2. Identify Your Passions: Focus on who and what you genuinely care about. Let these passions guide your actions and decisions.

  3. Embrace Challenges: Be willing to make sacrifices and face hardships for the causes you believe in. Let love and commitment drive you through difficult times.

  4. Shift Your Perspective: Move away from conventional success metrics and focus on the impact you can make on others’ lives.

By following Quilen’s example and advice, you can make love a skill. With practice and effort, you could make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.

Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!

How to Develop Unwavering Faith As a Superpower

Hannah Blackwell's superpower is her unwavering faith. She has always believed in the potential to make a difference, even in the face of danger and adversity. Her faith has kept her grounded and determined, guiding her through the toughest moments and enabling her to persevere. This steadfast belief in their mission has been instrumental in the success and impact of Southside Blooms.

Tips for Developing Hannah's Superpower:

  1. Maintain a Positive Outlook: Always believe that change is possible, even when faced with challenges.

  2. Stay Committed: Do not waver in your commitment to your goals, regardless of the obstacles you encounter.

  3. Seek Miracles: Look for and appreciate the small and large miracles that support your mission and reinforce your faith.

  4. Take Consistent Action: Keep moving forward with small steps, trusting that your efforts will lead to significant change.

By following Hannah’s example and advice, you can make faith a skill. With practice and effort, you could make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.

Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!

Guest Profile

Hannah Bonham Blackwell (she/her):

Co-Founder, Southside Blooms 

About Southside Blooms: Southside Blooms provides jobs and job training to at-risk youth on its four sustainable urban flower farms on the South Side of Chicago and one in Gary, Indiana. Southside Blooms is a project of the Chicago Eco House, a 5013c nonprofit organization, so every purchase of their “flowers that empower” supports their mission of using sustainability to alleviate poverty. Learn more at


Company Facebook Page:

Instagram Handle: @southsideblooms

Biographical Information: Hannah Bonham Blackwell is Lead Creative Director and Co-Founder of Southside Blooms, heading up everything design and style-related for the company. From her early days as a child growing up in the Great Plains, creativity came about in the form of dandelion bouquets and mud pies mixed with interesting things found in the woods behind her house. After her family moved to South America, she found ways of expressing that creativity through made-up games on the playground Growing up in a Mennonite home and community, service went hand-in-hand with faith, which included yearly service trips with her youth group. Led by her parents, the very first trip she would be on would take her to the south side of Chicago, only a few miles from where she would eventually settle in her forever home. That trip left a lasting impression on her. It was there that she came in contact with youth her own age, young people she would never forget who were bold in faith in the face of severe challenges and trauma, most living in the infamous Robert Taylor Home housing projects at that time.

Hannah continues to love serving her community while expressing her creativity through her work at Southside Blooms. Along the way, she and her husband Quilen added three little Blackwells to their team: Twins Olive and Josiah, and a year and a half later, Carver Jo - the honorary triplet! She loves being a mom and homeschooling her children while also still being involved in the neighborhood.


Quilen Blackwell (he/him):

Co-founder, Southside Blooms

Biographical Information: Quilen Blackwell is the president and co-founder of the Chicago Eco House, whose mission is to train inner city youth in sustainable social enterprises to alleviate poverty. The Chicago Eco House’s signature program is Southside Blooms, an off-grid flower farm youth social enterprise where participants convert vacant lots into commercial flower farms using solar-powered rainwater irrigation. This creates jobs
for young people on the south and west sides of Chicago.

Quilen is originally from Madison, WI, and moved to Chicago to attend ministry school. While in ministry school, he volunteered at a local high school in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's south side. This is where he first got acclimated to the realities that young people face every day in the inner city. He decided to commit his life to creating opportunities for the young people in the inner city by utilizing his skills in community organizing and renewable energy.

Quilen holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in environmental policy and sustainability from the University of Denver. He worked in the biodiesel industry as a procurer of feedstock and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand prior to starting the Chicago Eco House.

Quilen resides on the south side of Chicago with his wife Hannah (the other co-founder of Eco House) and their three children, all under six years old.


Upcoming SuperCrowd Event Calendar

If a location is not noted, the events below are virtual.

Community Event Calendar

If you would like to submit an event for us to share with the 7,000+ members of the SuperCrowd, click here.

We use AI to help us write compelling recaps of each episode.

Join the SuperCrowd!

1 Comment
Superpowers for Good
Superpowers for Good: Empowering Changemakers for Social Impact via Regulated Investment Crowdfunding from the SuperCrowd.
We host changemakers who are using regulated investment crowdfunding for social impact--impact crowdfunding--as impact investors or social entrepreneurs, catalyzing change with leadership skills we call superpowers.