US (IL): On south and west sides, business is blooming for eco-friendly florist

Young Englewood resident Eric Sanders has spent the summer in local flower farms nurturing seeds into wild, brilliant bloom. He says the work has given him a new perspective on flowers. “It made me look at the plants and flowers different. Like I take more care of them,” said Sanders. “Sometimes when I was younger, I’d just pull ‘em, but then I’ll be like, ‘I work at a flower shop now.’”

Sanders and his fellow flower farmers are employees of the Englewood-based farm‐to‐vase florist Southside Blooms. “Making bouquets and the process of how the flowers grow, like learning how to plant them, seeing them grow from the seeds, and then they come up to real flowers, that’s what I really like about the process,” Sanders said.

Most flowers have to travel a long way before they make it to a bouquet. Southside Blooms flowers get their start in farms dotting the South and West sides of the city.

“In the floral industry, 80% of the flowers actually come from overseas, and two-thirds of that’s coming from Central and South America,” said Quilen Blackwell, president and founder of the nonprofit Chicago Eco House, which operates Southside Blooms. “So when we’re growing flowers right here in the city, right here where people are buying it, we’re cutting off a lot of those lengthy transportation networks. When you buy local, you buy from a local farmer, you’re helping to really improve the environment and take a big chunk out of what otherwise would be sustaining a pretty dirty industry overall.”

Southside Blooms plants its flower farms in formerly vacant lots, a practice that farm manager and engineer Cade Kamaleson says is central to their ecological mission.

“The general process that we take in creating a flower farm, we have a focus on rejuvenating the soil,” Kamaleson said. “So we get compost from the city, and then on the grass on the pathways, we generally have clover or just grass as a cover crop to help. Clover specifically is a nitrogen fixer, and that helps rejuvenate the nutrients in the soil. We don’t use any pesticides or herbicides. So by nature of doing that, we have a lot of natural, local plants here. So we get a lot of biodiversity and insect life. We see all sorts of flies, crickets, butterflies, and all sorts of bees.”

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