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Chicago Eco House blooms with bright minds from the inner city

Chicago Eco House director Quilen Blackwell (Photo courtesy of Chicago Eco House)

Not too long ago, Quilen Blackwell, founder of Chicago Eco House, was tutoring at a high school in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. He encountered the challenges of inner-city poverty and how it affects young people who live in that community. In 2014, the Madison, Wisconsin, native who now calls Englewood home, began organizing local residents and community groups and successfully launched the Stewart Street Farm, which provided high school students with the skills and knowledge to run an urban farm. Occupying more than two city blocks, it includes vegetables, flowers and a fruit orchard, and the idea has germinated into three locations in Chicago and one location in Detroit.

 What is the mission of Chicago Eco House?

The mission of the Chicago Eco House is to use sustainability to alleviate inner-city poverty. My professional background is in community organizing [and] development, as I served in the Peace Corps and organized communities in suburban Milwaukee to advocate for more affordable housing as well as in sustainable business as I worked in the biodiesel industry for a few years. Eco House merges these two passions by organizing neighborhoods around sustainable social enterprise in order to spur bottom-up economic development in the inner city. It is very important to us that we work with the existing assets in our communities to build a homegrown economic power base so that our young people don’t think that they have to “escape” the Black community in order to be successful.

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