When Paul Quinn College decided to transform its old football field into a massive garden, a bona fide food desert was transformed. In just two years since the field was tilled, thousands of pounds of vegetables have made their way to the campus cafeteria, neighborhood charities and a few local restaurants.
A bigger affect, however, might be for the students who work on the farm.
"Quinnite" Benito Vidaure was born and raised in Dallas. When he arrived on campus at the Historically Black College, he got a job on the farm through the work-study program, partially because it was one of the higher paying jobs.
Everyday he leaves the classroom or his dorm and walks over to the large garden and works for a few hours to trim, pull weeds, plant or clean.
"I actually look forward to it now," Vidaure says, who before had never stepped foot in a garden. "It takes my mind off of things. It's relaxing. I like to get my hands in the dirt."
The garden lies on the east side of campus, partially surrounded by acres of dense trees. The air is thick and muggy, the land rich and moist. Walking between the rows of vegetables, shoes (boots, if you're smart) recede several inches into composted topsoil.
Andrea Bithell is the manager of the Paul Quinn Farm and oversees about 20 students each semester, guiding them through hands-on, organic, sustainable farming. Proud of the fruits of their labor and her students, on a tour she pulls up a piece of mustard greens and offers a sample.
Taking a bite of a spicy leaf, she extols the benefits of nutrient-rich food plucked right out of the ground. The kids chime about how sometimes Bithell brings a blender and makes fruit and veggie smoothies for them. A treat for the students.
Brittney Maddex, a member of the PQC basketball team and originally from Oklahoma City, says this is her first experience with farming. When food from the garden is served in the campus cafeteria, it's a point of pride.
"The food from here really does taste better," says Maddex. "It's fresher and just has a better flavor."
"I can't even eat an entire hamburger any more," adds Vidaure, as a result of eating more vegetables every day.
Bithell continues to aggressively drive projects at the farm. Recently Maddex took the lead in planting a pumpkin patch, which should be replete with fat orange gourds this fall. A green house is being built on the west side of the farm; Bithell calls it a "game-changer" because it will allow them to grown year-round.
This summer the concession stand, with a fresh coat of purple paint, will turn into a vegetable stand, hopefully selling many of the watermelons that were recently planted. Students will see the entire process, from seeds being planted in tidy rows, to customers buying the finished product for that night's dinner.
They're also working on putting together a small aquaponics system, and the Texas Honeybee Guild keeps several beehives at the back of the property. One of the next goals of the program is to raise money for two beekeeper suits. Brandon and Susan Pollard, of the Honeybee Guild, will then train students on beekeeping.
Most of what they get on the farm comes from donations. Al Nickerson donated 500 tomato plants recently, and the Associate Leadership Council of the Real Estate Council of Dallas has helped with the greenhouse, irrigation system and solar lights. A local tree trimming company dumps mulch -- one more thing with which the Quinnites can dirty their hands.
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