“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This is the motto that drives Hope Blooms, a community project based in the North End of Halifax. It is a space that provides people in the community with opportunities to learn, share, connect and grow.
In 2008, nutritionist and now executive director Jessie Jollymore brought together a group of youth living near an abandoned community garden in Halifax’s North End. That year, they grew enough fresh ingredients to make 150 jars of homemade salsa, which they sold and donated the proceeds to a local women’s shelter.
Since then, the community project ‘Hope Blooms’ has blossomed into a successful, impactful and meaningful space.
What began on a small plot of overgrown land 12 years ago, has evolved into a youth-driven movement to improve food security, education and social inclusion, while disrupting the cycle of poverty in their community. They encourage youth to grow, create and innovate in sustainable ways to make an impact.
The youth at Hope Blooms began growing herbs and producing organic salad dressings. In 2013, they presented to investors on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, asking for a $10,000 investment in exchange for five per cent profit. This money would help Hope Blooms meet their growing demands by investing in a year-round, off-grid greenhouse that was designed by one of the youths, Kolade Kolawole-Boboye – with the help of architects – when he was 14.
Following their inspirational and heartwarming pitch, the group received $40,000 to continue expanding their business and making positive changes in their community. The organic salad dressings are now sold at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market and major grocery stores around the city.
When Kolade Kolawole-Boboye moved from Nigeria to Halifax at the age of six, he was focused on making new friends. One year later, a friend asked him to join the garden at Hope Blooms. At the time, he didn’t consider himself a ‘gardener,’ but eventually decided to join.
Over the past 13 years, Kolawole-Boboye has worked his way up from a student, to a mentor and leader at Hope Blooms. Though he has moved away for university, he comes back every summer and is currently working as their social innovative coordinator.
“We work on youth engagement and youth leadership. We want to empower kids, encourage them to do things they don’t usually do, try things they don’t usually try, and learn to garden,” Kolawole-Boboye said in an interview.
He explained that especially coming from a marginalized community, youth don’t always think about where their food comes from. Hope Blooms wants to change that cycle by helping kids understand how food is produced, think about where it comes from, and understand the importance of nutrition.
Aside from the fresh herbs they grow to make salad dressing, Kolawole-Boboye said a large portion of the food grown in their gardens is given back to the youth who participate in their programs, to be shared with their families, friends and community members.
Over the past seven years, youth have grown more than 21,000 pounds of organic vegetables and fruits for members of their community facing food insecurity. Hope Blooms now provides 260 healthy meals and 306 healthy snacks to community members every month for free. They also gifted 15 garden plots to Syrian newcomers in 2016, to help them grow food for their families.
“Community is the backbone for us, and it’s very important that we maintain a healthy relationship. We try to give back in way we can – we do honorariums, scholarships, and other things to support each other,” he said.
The proceeds from Hope Blooms’ salad dressing sales are put towards a scholarship fund that helps their ‘garden alumni’ pursue post-secondary education.
By focusing on food security, education, community confidence and inclusion, Hope Blooms has been able to influence meaningful improvements in its community.
“If you don’t think about where your food comes from, or don’t consider pesticides or GMOs, that might affect your health as a person and your performance in life. It not only impacts how you think and how you live, but also can impact your family and the people around you,” Kolawole-Boboye said.
Food insecurity is a global issue with local impacts. By teaching youth how to grow their own food, Hope Blooms aims to empower them and change their mindset on what they eat.
With more than 60 youth involved, Hope Blooms has grown into an inclusive and diverse learning hub that has something for everyone. It now houses a commercial kitchen, an off-grid greenhouse, and an outdoor gardening space which produces up to 4,000 pounds of produce annually.
It also offers various programs for youth in the community, including Youth Organic Urban Agriculture, Culinary and Cultural Arts, Mentorship and Tutoring, Changemakers, Social Enterprise, Group Workshops and more.
While COVID-19 has posed a challenge, Hope Blooms has managed to continue offering programs and camps on a smaller scale.
Through these programs, youth are given opportunities to learn about agriculture and food security, money management, food literacy, leadership development, problem-solving and sustainable development, entrepreneurship and community engagement. Older participants and alumni of Hope Blooms eventually take on mentorship roles for the younger members.
The impact Hope Blooms has made in its community over the past 12 years has been remarkable. In 2016, Dalhousie School of Health Promotion conducted research to measure how involvement with Hope Blooms had affected people in the community.
One hundred per cent of respondents said that having a plot in Hope Blooms garden has increased their ability to provide healthy food for their families. Ninety-nine per cent felt a greater sense of belonging in their community since participating in the Hope Blooms garden and programs, and 92 per cent found their level of community involvement had increased since joining the garden.
By working together as a community, Hope Blooms is building an urban organic food system that benefits everyone.
In September 2019, Hope Blooms received a $1.2M loan from Invest Nova Scotia to provide a new kitchen and community space. This will further increase their capacity to produce salad dressings and other products, double the number of youths who can access their training programs, and provide space for youth and newcomers to launch new social enterprises.
The story of Hope Blooms is inspirational, showing the promise and progress of one community, while setting an example for others. This project has helped improve food security, while engaging an entire community in food production, leadership and empowerment.
“Hope Blooms definitely means family, it means a place I can call home. It’s a place I feel very comfortable as a person, and a place where I can bring people I love and people who want to learn,” said Kolawole-Boboye.
The success of this project should be encouraging to other communities that struggle with food insecurity and poverty. Areas in New Brunswick could benefit from social enterprises like Hope Blooms that could provide new opportunities for youth, improve food security, and better connect communities as a whole.
Hannah Moore is a recent graduate from St. Thomas University, currently working as a Food Security and Regenerative Farming Reporter for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.