How Young People Are Creating a New World

"Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine." --Alan Turing
Hope Blooms youth. Image courtesy of Hope Blooms and Nimbus Publishing.

Hope Blooms
Hope Blooms/Arlene Dickinson
Nimbus Publishing

 

Be Prepared!
Frankie MacDonald and Sarah Sawler
Nimbus Publishing

 

My River
Anne Laurel Carter
Formac Publishing

 

Mamadou Wade is fond of this particular quotation, attributed to ground-breaking thinker and computer scientist Alan Turing. As a long-time member of Hope Blooms, a youth-led community project growing vegetables and herbs and producing their own line of popular salad dressings, Wade is getting accustomed to “achieving things people don’t really imagine you achieving.”

“I feel like that resonates with us,” says Wade, “because from the outside looking in you see the stigmas, you see the stereotypes of inner-city kids. But we’re really achieving great things.”

Back in 2013, Wade was on a team of young kids from Hope Blooms who presented on CBC’s reality investor series, Dragon’s Den. After going in asking for a $10,000 investment to help meet the growing demand for their home-grown herb salad dressings, the Hope Blooms kids brought tears to the eyes of several Dragons and went home with four contributions of $10,000 each.

The story that moved the Dragons to tears (and to ponying up financial support) is told in Hope Blooms: Plant a Seed, Harvest a Dream. It is one of three new books—the others are about an autistic weather aficionado and an 11-year-old citizen scientist—that, on the surface, tell vastly different stories. But they all hone in on some basic principles that drive their subjects—all of them under 40—who “no one can imagine anything of.” They have all achieved book-worthy success and they are all, each in their own ways, are changing and inspiring the world in the process.

The Garden Tycoons

The Hope Blooms story goes back to 2008, when nutritionist Jessie Jollymore brought together nine children and youth living near an abandoned community garden in Halifax’s North End. Together, they grew enough fresh ingredients to produce 150 jars of homemade salsa. The “Salsamania” crew sold the lot, then voted to donate the proceeds to a local women’s shelter. The seeds of Hope Blooms were sown.

Ten years later there are more than 50 Hope Blooms youth, ranging in age from five to 18 years old, growing over 4,000 pounds of produce annually. The group has a bustling commercial kitchen and storefront, a solar-powered greenhouse growing herbs year-round and an ever-evolving garden space, which has become a focal point of the local community. Hope Blooms dressings are now available in major grocery stores and, in addition to funding local charities, they have created the Hope Blooms scholarship fund, currently helping four garden alumni cover their post-secondary education costs. Mamadou Wade was the first scholarship recipient in 2016, and attends the University of Toronto focussing on business and technology.

Wade recalls first joining the group when he was 11. “Some of my peers would go to the Hope Blooms garden, and I was kind of curious,” recalls Wade, admitting that the gardening was not what won him over. “I like gardening but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s my main passion. The business side of things really attracted me—going to the Seaport market every Saturday selling the dressings.

“I still garden occasionally,” he admits with a smile.

 

Photo by Nicola Davison, Snickerdoodle Photography

In the spirit of a youth-led organization, the children and youth take ownership over what Hope Blooms does, says Wade. “Salad dressing is obviously our staple product, but there’s also other things we do. We’re starting a tea business, which is completely youth-led. And we have a lemonade business. Going on Dragon’s Den, that was our idea that we put forward,” he recalls. “We really were into it. We would come in after school and just really put in the necessary work. We took ownership and we took pride in that. It wasn’t just about getting the money, it was about making our community proud.”

After ten years, Hope Blooms has become a self-sustaining community engine of positive impacts, with older participants and “alumni” like Wade mentoring the younger gardeners and budding social entrepreneurs. And that, according to Wade, is the real payoff. “Starting off as kids, and growing into young men and women who are going to eventually change the world… that’s kind of the end goal.”

The Citizen Scientist

It’s a goal Stella Bowles can relate to. In Grade 6, at age 11 going-on 12, Bowles became a household name in Nova Scotia. Her science-fair project documenting the dangerously high enterococci bacteria levels in the LaHave River put the adult stewards of her community to shame, and kick started a process that will, eventually, put an end to more than 600 illegal “straight pipes” that have been flushing raw sewage directly into the river for generations.

Like Mamadou Wade, Bowles is taking her personal success and parlaying it into helping other young people. Using awards, grants and donations, and in partnership with the conservation group Coastal Action, Bowles has put together kits and training sessions to make it possible for other young people and citizen scientists to measure pollution levels in their own local waterways. And she’s also become a strong advocate for better science education, calling for more hands-on experience and inquiry-based learning in schools.

The story of how Bowles got where she is today—a savvy, determined 14-year-old who may end up seeing the demise of straight pipes throughout Nova Scotia—is told in My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River, co-authored by Anne Laurel Carter.

It all started with a conversation around her kitchen table. As her parents discussed the prospect of replacing their septic system, it came up that not all properties along the river actually had septic systems. “And Mom explained what a straight pipe was and my jaw dropped. I had no words,” recalls Bowles.

Bowles had questions. Her parents decided to help her find the answers. Through Coastal Action, Bowles met her first mentor outside her family, Dr. David Maxwell, who had been testing the LaHave for two years and was finding unsafe levels of fecal contamination. Bowles was shocked and concerned, especially for the people swimming and boating in the river, including her father and brother. Even today, says Bowles, “I see people swimming in the water and I’m like, ‘oh, I wonder if they know.’”

Before taking on any testing herself, Bowles decided to start getting the word out. She put up her first now-famous sign facing the road on her property: “This river is contaminated with fecal bacteria.”

Photo by Andrea Conrad, courtesy of Formac Publishing

Almost two years later, after her science project had gained boatloads of media attention and garnered her a silver medal at the Canada-wide Science Fair in Regina, the government funding needed to put an end to straight pipes had still not come through. So Bowles put up a second sign: “600+ homes flush their toilets directly into this river.”

“It was to the point, it was simple, and everybody understood it,” says Bowles. In addition to learning the rudiments of controlled experiments and the importance of valid scientific results, Bowles had learned the value of simple, clear messages when communicating to the public at large. She had also learned that to provoke change in the adult world, you need to keep up the pressure.

After federal funding was approved and the demise of straight pipes in the LaHave seemed imminent, a call came in from the municipal government to ask if Bowles would consider taking down her discomforting sign. She agreed to, but only after the first hole was dug to replace a straight pipe with a proper septic system.

Bowles’ youth has had its disadvantages. Though no one challenged her in person, Bowles has heard people discrediting her work, “because you’re a kid.”

Luckily, she has had mentors showing her how to do the science right, her parents and Dr. David Maxwell, as well as other local scientists. She was even invited to Acadia University to perform further tests to confirm that what she had been counting were actually enterococci. (They were.)

At other times, her youth has proven advantageous. “The fact that I was a little kid, kind of shaming the adults, was creating a lot of talk in the community,” says Bowles. “‘Hey, look at what this kid did for a project. Why hasn’t anybody else done this?’ There was a lot of upset people, not because of me, but because this is happening and nobody was really doing anything.”

To date, about ten straight pipes have been replaced along the LaHave. More are underway. The full project is expected to take about five years.

“I’m really, really happy with the progress,” says Bowles. “It’s crazy to see that a little project sparked so much change. Being a kid doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. You can make a difference. Your age is just a number.”

Bowles found strength not only in science but also in effective communication. For that, she didn’t just rely on roadside signs. She also made good use of social media.

“Posts went so far,” says Bowles. “Social media can be used for good. It doesn’t have to be always negative. Without Facebook I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with this project.”

The YouTube Weatherman

The support of mentors and the ever-growing online world has presented opportunities for another young Nova Scotian, too.

You may know Frankie MacDonald from his videos on YouTube, where he reports the weather forecast with a gusto that has won him fans across the globe. He also creates popular comedy clips such as “Guy Tries to Eat 50 Hot Dogs at Once,” which has garnered more than 1.2 million views.

In Be Prepared: The Frankie MacDonald Guide to Life, the Weather, and Everything, author Sarah Sawler teams up with MacDonald to give a glimpse behind the videos and tell the story of how MacDonald’s interest in technology and weather eventually led him to carve out a dream job for himself.

In Be Prepared, we learn of MacDonald’s early life, growing up with autism in Sydney, Cape Breton. We learn of the people in his life who helped him learn to connect with others and encouraged him to pursue his interests. We learn of his passion for weather, rooted in his early childhood watching the weather channel, and later chasing the odd storm with his father. And we learn that concern for people is at the core of his dedication to weather forecasting.

Frankie MacDonald, photo courtesy of Nimbus Publishing

“I warn people to get them ready for bad weather,” says MacDonald, with advice ranging from “get your flashlights” to “order your pizza, order your Chinese food.” And always, “take care, be prepared.”

Of course, MacDonald has had his run-ins with the darker side of humans so prevalent on the internet. He shut down his first YouTube channel in 2010 after too many negative comments. But his current channel is going strong, with more than 175,000 subscribers and pages of positive comments. MacDonald says when things get nasty, there’s only one thing to do:

“Ignore all the trolls. Ignore bullies. Ignore negative comments,” says MacDonald. “Those guys will be banned from YouTube sooner or later.”

On Twitter, where MacDonald maintains an active presence as @frankiemacd, Frankie Defence Teams have sprung up to help maintain the positivity and shut down the bullying.

MacDonald’s new book (replete with weather facts from around the world) and his new line of action figures (sporting hoodies emblazoned with “Frankie Says Be Prepared!”) are his current projects, but otherwise MacDonald is focussed on producing more videos, continuing to care for people by warning them of bad weather in the making and continuing to make them laugh with his comedy skits.

Your age is a number. Ignore the bullies. Seek out the right mentors. Put in the necessary work. Make your community proud.

It’s almost as if the kids of Hope Blooms, Stella Bowles and Frankie MacDonald were all following the same recipe for success, each in their own unique way.

It’s lucky for us they are, because someone has to have the guts, the creativity and the fortitude to “do the things no one can imagine.”

Written By

Erica Butler is a freelance journalist, transportation columnist and former host of Habitat Radio.

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