Chicago Eco House
Roles at NAAEE
Quilen Blackwell is the president and founder of the Chicago Eco House, whose mission is to train inner-city youth in sustainable social enterprises to alleviate poverty. The Chicago Eco House’s two signature programs are a flower farm and 3D printing youth social enterprises. The Eco House has won several awards for its work including the UL Innovation Education Award, Delta Institute BOOST Award, and the Keep Chicago Beautiful Community Vision Award. Quilen is interested in advancing youth entrepreneurship in the environmental education field. He believes that this approach can help to expand the EE audience to underrepresented communities while also using EE to solve real-world problems that youth from poor families face every day.
Quilen holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in environmental policy and sustainability from the University of Denver. He worked in the biodiesel industry as a procurer of feedstock and is a returned Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand prior to starting the Chicago Eco House. Quilen is a married father of twins and resides on the south side of Chicago.
About Quilen‘s ee360 Community Action Project
Quilen’s ee360 project focuses on expanding the Chicago EcoHouse flower farm social enterprise outside of the three farms that they currently operate from. The goal is to expand to additional neighborhoods within Chicago and to other places outside of Chicago, such as Detroit. This project meets the needs of the community because the inner cities of urban hubs like Chicago and Detroit have thousands of vacant lots and suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates. The flower farm social enterprise repurposes these vacant spaces into productive urban agricultural spaces that provide hands-on environmental education for youth while also spurring economic development. The potential impact is that this project will inspire a new generation of EE leaders from communities that generally have not been included in the field while also creating real jobs that benefit their families and neighbors.
Quilen also worked with Anita Singh to build a Detroit EcoHouse site in partnership with Get Down Farms and Keep Growing Detroit. This entailed converting vacant land into an off grid flower farm and having youth from Detroit visit the EcoHouse in Chicago. Quilen and Anita also partnered with Abby Randall at EcoRise to start a beekeeping project on their flower farms in Chicago.
The Chicago Eco House has collaborated with several companies and organizations on this project including UL, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the University of Chicago, Engineers Without Borders, Springboard Foundation, Groupon, and many more. Furthermore, the work of the Chicago Eco House has received coverage in the local press for the unique and dynamic way it is solving local problems.