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Dressing Up

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Issue: 73 Section: Business Geography: Canada, Atlantic Halifax Topics: agriculture, economics, Youth

November 5, 2010

Dressing Up

Kids shake it up in Halifax's North End

by Charlene Davis

Craig Cain sells Hope Blooms salad dressing he helped make at the Halifax Farmers Market. The majority of the money from the business goes to a scholarship fund for the youth who volunteer their time. Photo: Charlene Davis

HALIFAX—Eleven-year-old Craig Cain eagerly shakes bottles of Hope Blooms salad dressing and pours them into dishes for a potential customer to taste. He tells the customer his favourite flavour is Creamy Dill and Garlic, and smiles widely when a purchase is made. It is 7:45 on a Saturday morning. At one point, when offered a $20 bill for a $6 bottle of salad dressing, he pauses and asks, without guile, “Do you need change for that?” He is eager. So eager, he happily got up two hours earlier that morning to volunteer to sell salad dressing.

Cain is one of almost 40 kids who work on a youth project at the North End Community Garden in Halifax, and who, with the help of sponsors and the program’s organizers, have started a registered charity and a business: Hope Blooms. The majority of the money from the business goes into a scholarship fund for the young people; the rest goes to a community charity.

A greenhouse is in the process of being built so herbs for the salad dressing can be grown all winter long. Photo: Charlene Davis

“First we pick the stuff from the garden, then we take it in, then we clean it, then we spin it, then we cut it, then we put it in the blender with the other ingredients and then we pour it into the bottles.” Cain has been working in the garden for two years. He has learned how to grow plants and how to make salad dressing. He says it’s a lot of fun.

Eleven-year-old Karen Chen says she and her colleagues have to pay attention to how many vegetables they grow, and that relates to how much salad dressing they can make and sell. Each bottle of salad dressing contains a half-cup of herbs. “It’s a lot. We need a lot each time,” says Chen. “Some people just come to our garden and take our stuff and smash it. It’s bad. I think that each plant has its own life,” says Chen, “It makes us really, really angry.”

Vandalism of the garden is only one of the challenges the kids in the area are facing. “The community has its challenges, as do all marginalized communities, as it relates to crime and poverty,” says Cheyanne Gorman-Tolliver. Gorman-Tolliver works with the Black Business Institute (BBI), which is working closely with Hope Blooms. “But the people are strong and they make a way.”

“Sometimes we have to start over again [after the garden is vandalized],” says eight-year-old Folayemi Boboye. “We may have to make more compost and start growing again.” Boboye has a unique view on the garden: she says it is patient.

“I think it’s the kids who are patient,” counters Chen. “We have to have patience and help the garden.” They agree, however, that, like all of us, the garden needs to take time to grow. It needs someone to take good care of it.

Jillian Martin, who works at the North End Community Health Centre, has noticed a difference in the young people’s commitment to taking care of their garden and their business. Each year, their willingness to show up and work hard improves. “Now that they know what it’s all about,...as soon as they get there, they’re ready to work,” says Martin, who describes her role with the garden as a manager of operations.

She says it was a real learning process and that it took a long time to get the business started and on track. With help from the BBI, they came up with a business plan and learned about things such as a financial forecast—“terms we’d never heard of,” says Martin. The Centre for Women and Business at Mount Saint Vincent also provided a lot of assistance. “We’re good at using our resources and asking for help because we recognize that we don’t really know what we’re doing when it comes to business, but the spirit is there and the dream is there so we just have to kind of go with the flow. It’s not hard to keep going because there’s just so much inspiration and the kids love it.”

The kids also love the business camp BBI hosts each year. At the camp, the children learn important points of running a business. They learn “entrepreneurship...and the value of making a product, selling it, and feeling proud of yourself for doing your own thing” says Martin. Cain says he is learning how to count change, how to sell, and that sometimes it’s important to get up really early.

Cain wants to start his own line of salad dressing when he grows up. He wants to be a business man.

The program has the kids seriously considering their futures. “They actually take the time to think, ‘what do I want to be when I grow up, and how do I get there?’” says Martin. A few weeks ago, one young girl asked Martin what community college was about and whether she could use the money from the scholarships for college rather than university. Martin says, “They’ve been starting to ask [these kinds of] questions, realizing, 'I do have a prospect of education, I do have this money coming when I graduate, what should I do with it?'”

Jessie Jollymore, Martin’s colleague at the Health Centre, is the woman whose vision was to develop the garden. She says that when she has taken the young people to various events and presentations, she has them speak about their dreams for the future. The children talk about wanting to be teachers, doctors, marine biologists: at this point, says Jollymore, the room goes silent. She says people are surprised to hear that these kids from low-income, disadvantaged communities have dreams. “They shouldn’t be [surprised],” she says, “Everyone has dreams.”

Chen wants to be a chef when she grows up. “Getting people to eat nutritious food is the biggest challenge,” she says. “Some people don’t like vegetables and eat unhealthy things.” After displaying her knowledge of the various nutrients and vitamins found in fruits and vegetables, she continues, “I never really liked cucumbers, but after I started working in the garden I took a bite of cucumber and felt like I wanted to go outside and yell, ‘Delicious!’”

Boboye eats a lot of vegetables now too. She takes what she grows home to her mother. “My mom always makes some salads and they’re really good.” She says she has learned that it’s important to eat good, healthy food.

“The moms have really taken an interest,” says Martin. “I think they really enjoy coming to a place where they can see their kids flourishing.”

Last year, the youth shared their proceeds with ARK, a shelter for street-involved and homeless youths. “They’ve been developing a sense of making money, and giving it back to the community.” This year, they will choose another organization with whom to share their proceeds.

Chen says, “We’re helping a lot of people by selling what we make.”

“It means a lot to me to see positivity coming into the neighbourhood...the community gets a really negative rap sometimes from the media,” says Martin.

Jollymore says that the whole project is about the kids having a sense of empowerment regarding their futures. It’s also about spreading that sense of empowerment throughout the community. Cain wants to see more people from his school come to the garden and help out. “They don’t get paid to come here, they don’t get paid to make [the salad dressing],” says Martin, but they come anyway.

A greenhouse is in the process of being built so herbs for the salad dressing can be grown all winter long. It looks like the business will keep flourishing. So far, Hope Blooms has sold out every week they've set up shop at the market.

Charlene is a freelancer and a recent graduate of Journalism at King's. She holds a BA and MA in English literature. She works as a Junior Program Officer at Imhotep Legacy Academy.

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