How Urban Farming Saved a Dallas Community



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The farm is a magical place. Food has a way of bringing people together.

– You know it was just about feeding people healthy food, but it grew. – Here in the South side of Dallas 95% of our families in our community are single parent households. We suffer from more than twice the rate of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke. About half our men will go to prison before their 25th birthday. The typical approach to solving these issues is to create a program to address a symptom of a problem. What we do that’s so radically different is a holistic approach where the solutions are provided in the place that they call home.

This little farm in this back-end of a forgotten inner city community is playing a role in healing our city. If Bonton works, I think it changes everything.

25% of all Americans are born into a place of poverty

every year, and so they’re born into a Bonton. When I first moved down, I would always say if there was something I could do, what would it be? And everybody I met, for at least the first six months said jobs. We learned along the way that it was more than just about jobs, it was also about fresh food, transportation, and safe affordable housing, and fair access to credit and education. It was like a house of cards where all these things leaned on one another. People are capable and filled with hope and potential, they just need the opportunities, and those opportunities need to be built in the environment that they come from.

Wound up planting a garden with the idea that we would use it to prepare for jobs and also to grow our own food. We couldn’t hardly get anything to grow, and when we finally did get something to grow, it was against the city ordnance at the time to have what they classified as a market garden, a garden you sold things from. We’ve been able to help rewrite the ordinances for Dallas to now allow market gardens. We need a place to sell our food, so we opened a market and cafe. We have a coffeehouse that’ll open next month.

We’ve learned along the way that it’s not just about work. We learned how important it is to have transportation to get to work, and how important it is to have a place to rest at night when you get home from work. We started buying these defaulted houses, using those as places our interns could stay while they were getting their life on track, and it changed everything. – When you empower somebody and you fix the problem, they can shoot off, they can head for the stars. – And I think how everything has grown here, you’ll hear a common thread is growing through failure.

Just about everything we’ve set out to do hasn’t worked, but we didn’t quit. – I’ve started over in life maybe four, five, six, seven times, I do a little good you know saying, get an apartment, get on my feet a little bit, then I guess I get too relaxed and fall back into my old ways, you know. Seeking pleasure and passion in the form of narcotics. I asked for mercy and I prayed for help, and a couple days later, I met Daron. He said, if you really want some help, Patrick, just meet me at the garden here, and I’ll see if I can get you some help, but you got to prove yourself first.

– I may get a corn to eat, hey I want to eat that corn. – The farm gave me a peace of mind. It gave me a purpose and a meaning. Now, I have a new life, a new way of doing things, and I can’t use the old way no more. – We’re saying in 20 years, communities like Bonton can normalize. How much better is that than building another prison?

You know, how much better is that than building another homeless shelter. Not saying that those things don’t have a place, but there should be a huge shift in investment of time and energy from the downstream measures we do to deal with people once they’ve fallen in the river and are drowning, and move it upstream before they fall in and give ’em the resources they need to become something special and give back to this world.

How much more beautiful would that be when we do that?

Now we are one of the largest urban farms in the United States. Over 42 acres inside the city of Dallas in production. – It’s not just the community here in Bonton. We have a huge family. – We have over 18,000 people here that come down and visit, and stuff happens there. People relate with one another, sitting down and share a meal together, we talk about things we have in common instead of the things that make us different. When that happens, it’s no longer us and them, it’s we. And things change.

– In our series Catalysts, we’re profiling inspiring social entrepreneurs who are developing bold solutions to our biggest problems. Subscribe to Freethink now, and be the first to see new episodes.

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