'We came out stronger.' Opportunity blooms at Halifax community garden
Hope Blooms has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to revamp its organization.
As the first days of spring arrive, Hope Blooms, a farm, community garden and non-profit based in Halifax, prepares for the thaw. Despite COVID-19 forcing the transformation of its program in 2020, Hope Blooms has used the pandemic as an opportunity to come back better than ever.
Viewers of CBC's Dragons' Den may remember Hope Blooms from its pitch in 2013 when six kids from its gardening education program for underprivileged youth pitched the Dragons and got an offer four times the amount they asked for. The money was invested in a greenhouse so Hope Blooms could grow the herbs to make their salad dressing year-round.
Fast forward to now, and despite not being able to continue its in-person interactive gardening and arts program for kids called Garden Night, Hope Blooms was able to use the pandemic to completely revamp its 10,000 square-foot garden and found innovative ways to serve its North End Halifax community — all while keeping kids involved from home.
"Last year was one of our most challenging years, but I'm grateful for it because we came out stronger. It made us all realize how strong we actually are and if you set your mind to something, you can get it done," says Kolade Kolawole-Boboye who was 12 when he helped present that Dragons' Den pitch in 2013. Now, as the 20-year-old co-founder of LDN (Let Dreams Be Noticed) Records, Kolawole-Boboye serves as a leader at Hope Blooms and is the youth and alumni representative on its board.
Last summer, on break from pursuing his business degree at St. Xavier University, Kolawole-Boboye led a team in terraforming Hope Blooms' entire garden. An event like this would have brought 70 people together in pre-COVID times, but now was reduced to a team of five. Meanwhile, Kolawole-Boboye also helped create free gardening kits for each child who was part of Hope Blooms' Gardening Nights program, so they could still garden at home and not feel left out.
"The kits were so successful that last year, Nova Scotia's Provincial Government asked us to create 40 more to send to kids across the province, so we're doing them again this year as part of our gardening program," says Kolawole-Boboye. In addition, Hope Blooms made over 50 kits for Garden Night participants.
As Hope Blooms plans their summer season, the kits are part of their new strategy. Also on the agenda? Revamping Hope Blooms as a whole in efforts to make it easier for families in need to access fresh produce.
To tackle this continued food insecurity, Hope Blooms plans to partner with schools and community centres to launch a mobile food market where families will be able to obtain fresh food boxes.
"We re-evaluated Hope Blooms' entire structure in a way that fits COVID, but also fits in a way that's sustainable," says Kolawole-Boboye. "COVID is a paradigm shift — nothing is ever going to be the same — so we see its arrival as an opportunity to try new things and change things that didn't work before in a way that makes them work now and improve Hope Blooms overall."
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