Courtesy PepsiCo Food for Good Initiative
In a place like Dallas, Texas—one of the U.S.’s top burgeoning cities in a state that hosts some of the country’s best ranch land—it’s hard to believe that lack of fresh food would be a problem for anyone. But the southern part of the city has come to be known as a food desert, with access to affordable fruits and vegetable out of arm’s reach.
Paul Quinn College, a small, minority-based college of 150 students in South Dallas, unsettled by the unavailability of fresh food for its students and the surrounding community, decided to take matters into its own hands.
“The closest grocery is 5 miles away from the college,” says Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College. “There are no healthy dining options at all—the Subway at a gas station in the next town south is the closest healthy dining option to the college.”
With an unused football field left over from the college’s discontinued football program, the college partnered with PepsiCo to start the Food for Good Farm on the original gridiron.
The idea for the farm started in January 2010, merely months before ground was broken on the 2-acre plot in March. The original plan for the football field was to transform 30 yards into a small garden, but by partnering with PepsiCo and its new Food for Good program, the school was able to take the land even further to plant greens, corn, tomatoes, squash and other crops.
For many students on campus, this will be their first gardening experience.
“When the tractors first started showing up on campus, most students had no idea why they were tearing up the football field,” says Patrick Hillard, a sophomore from Ft. Worth, Texas, and student captain of the farm team. “As word began to spread that Paul Quinn College would soon have an urban farm, most students at first thought it was a joke.”
Courtesy PepsiCo Food for Good Initiative
The crops harvested will be divided among Paul Quinn and PepsiCo’s programs. Half of the crops will be sold to area restaurants and grocery stores, 20 percent will be served in the college dining halls at a discounted rate to students, and 10 percent will be donated to food banks and area families in need.
The remaining 20 percent of the harvest will be donated to PepsiCo’s farm stand initiative, a program to provide local growers with the tools needed to start their own farm stand. The concept is first being tested in Dallas’ Jubilee Park Community.
“The produce grown at the Food for Good Farm will be a source for the Jubilee Park farm stand and other local farm stands as the model expands throughout Dallas and the Highland Hills community that surrounds Paul Quinn College,” says Amy Chan, the Food for Good project manager.
According to Sorrell, with 140 more acres of unused land, this new urban farm just scratches the surface of what’s to come.
Beyond the Harvest
More than just a piece of land that will bring physical nourishment, the Food for Good Farm will bring intellectual nourishment as well. Over the next four years, the college will be rolling out a new social entrepreneurship curriculum and degree program that will incorporate lessons learned on the farm.
“We are not trying to turn our students into farmers. We are trying to turn our students into social entrepreneurs and social leaders,” Sorrell says. “When you are in the business of teaching students to be leaders, you tackle the problems that need to be tackled.”
The program will address all kinds of community needs. But given the community’s lack of available, nutritional produce and the nation’s growing malnutrition and childhood obesity problems, the farm seemed like a logical place to start.
Beginning in 2010 all students at Paul Quinn will be required to enroll in a year-long social entrepreneurship study, half of which will be spent working on the farm. PepsiCo will bring in experts to assist students in soil preparation, crop selection and irrigation techniques, as well as in business development and selling the produce locally.
Sorrell notes that with food deserts in communities across the U.S., the Food for Good Farm has the potential to become a national model—all it takes is people’s decision to create change. The students seem to be catching on to this notion.
“Our school is in South Dallas, not exactly what someone would call prime real estate for a farm,” Hillard says. “This project has taught me that no matter what, there is always a solution to a problem that can and will benefit other people. A year ago, we had an ugly looking football field that was not in use. Now, we have the beginnings of a harvest—fruits and vegetables growing between those goal posts.”