In 2016, the Dallas City Council offered $3 million “to assist in development and/or location of one or more high quality grocery stores … within or adjacent to a southern Dallas food desert." More than a year later, no major grocery stores have taken the bait, and the problem persists. One Southern Methodist University professor is trying a new approach: low-cost plants.
The Seedling Farm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center’s Freedom Garden will celebrate its grand opening Nov. 21, and the fledgling farm has a lofty goal: to give a struggling neighborhood greater access to fresh produce through individual and community gardening, according to a press release.
“A food desert is a community without close access to fresh, healthy foods at grocery stores or other retail outlets, and in South Dallas, many residents live at least a mile away from a grocery store,” says Owen Lynch, associate professor of organizational communication at SMU's Meadows School of the Arts and president of the nonprofit urban farm consulting agency Get Healthy Dallas. “In fact, South Dallas is one of the largest food deserts in the country. While there have been positive results with the many new urban farming and gardening efforts in recent years, there is still work to be done.
"The Seedling Farm aims to overcome some of the barriers to successful local agricultural production and help boost garden yield in South Dallas. It helps everyone in the urban farm system, facilitating others to grow their businesses.”
Open year-round, the Seedling Farm will "provide a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetable plants at a nominal cost, along with professional in-person advice," according to the release. To participate, either as an individual or group running a community garden, interested growers will meet with Seedling Farm manager Tyrone Day and pick the best plants for the specific garden setup.
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"In step three, the selected seeds will be grown at the farm until they have matured into young seedlings ready for planting," according to the release. "In step four, the gardener picks up the plants at the MLK Center and raises them in his or her own garden. The resulting crop can be for the gardener’s personal use, or shared with friends or community centers."
The farm wants to produce 20,000 young plants per year and hopes that, with coaching, the edible plants won't just wither on the vine once they leave the farm. The Seedling Farm also plans to work with Miles of Freedom, a nonprofit that helps previously incarcerated men and women, to host job training and help foster a new generation of urban growers.
"By increasing production and coordinating the capabilities of the local emerging agriculture system," according to the release, "the hope is the farm will not just seed gardens but have a multiplier effect, contributing to economic activity and well-being throughout the community."
The Seedling Farm, 2922 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Grand opening event is at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 21.