Solar power energizes a Halifax neighbourhood

Thursday December 21, 2023

As summer drew to a close in Halifax’s Uniacke Square neighbourhood, the young agricultural entrepreneurs at Hope Blooms, a youth-driven registered charity, rushed to harvest the last of their produce before Hurricane Lee hit. This equity-deserving community is already facing the effects of climate change, and its youth are seizing the opportunity to change the course of the climate crisis.

At Hope Blooms, youth learn to grow organic food on 10,000 square feet of urban gardens and in a solar powered greenhouse that the bullfrogpowered community supported in 2015. The food they grow is sold at the subsidized Fair Food Farmer’s Market and used to manufacture fresh herb salad dressings. After graduating at 18, youth leave with an annual scholarship funded by salad dressing proceeds – as well as deep knowledge of sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

This year, Bullfrog Power donated $20,000 to help Hope Blooms add even more renewable energy to their operations in the form of two solar awnings. The awnings provide shade for picnic tables, free wifi, and electricity for charging phones, laptops, and ebikes. All bullfrogpowered customers contribute to initiatives like this one through our community projects program.

The solar awnings quickly became a meeting place, an educational tool, and a lifeline. Many community members who are insecurely housed or unhoused come every day to charge their devices. And when a tropical storm caused a three-day power outage in the spring, everyone could rely on solar energy to keep their phones going.

Uniacke Square is a public housing project that was built in part to accommodate the displaced residents of Africville, a primarily Black community that the City of Halifax destroyed in the 1960s. Having been promised a higher standard of living, Africville residents who were forcibly relocated to Uniacke Square instead encountered racism, unequal access to education and jobs, and a lack of social supports.

Racialized poverty persists in Halifax to this day, making many Uniacke Square residents particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts like rising food and energy prices. Hope Blooms is working to alleviate those immediate effects through subsidized produce and free charging, with a long-term goal of breaking the cycle of poverty altogether. For a community that has often been denied a say in where and how they live, the opportunity to engage with environmental stewardship and climate action has been transformative.

Jessie Jollymore, the Founder and Executive Director of Hope Blooms, notes that youth are much more likely to develop an interest in things that they can relate to. Her proof? When children grow kale, they’ll devour a kale Caesar salad. Renewable energy is another example. Students who would be bored by a textbook explanation of solar power might love to open up a solar awning’s battery to see how it works.

Hope Blooms hosts Green Labs that let students do just that, gaining hands-on experience with renewable energy during an 8-week program. They learn about environmental stewardship from the ground up, starting with soil health. Then, they’re invited to look at the renewable technology around them, including the solar awnings and off-grid greenhouse, to spark ideas for a more sustainable future. The first group of students built wind turbine models, solar dehydrators for their garden produce, and solar-powered aquaponics systems.

To Jessie, bringing cutting-edge renewable technology to historically marginalized neighbourhoods like Uniacke Square is as much about giving the community a voice as it is about emissions reductions. “We’ve been left out of conversations about climate change and climate action, and the solar awnings are a really important tool to involve our community in those conversations,” Jessie said. “Long-term, we hope that some of our youth will go into renewable energy careers.”

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