Football to Farm

A Dallas college has devised a unique way to make a food desert bloom.

By Nancy Dorman-Hickson

Shutting down the football team in 2010 was among the first acts by Paul Quinn College’s new president, Michael Sorrell. The historically black school south of downtown Dallas couldn’t afford it.

Shortly afterward, Sorrell met with philanthropist Trammell S. Crow and lamented the area’s status as a food desert—no grocery stores, few restaurants and virtually no access to healthy food—when Crow mentioned his commitment to community gardens. The comment prompted a light bulb moment for Sorrell.

Dallas native and student farm worker Monicea Barnes

Dallas native and student farm worker Monicea Barnes

Funding from Crow and PepsiCo helped convert the college’s football field to a farm. “We left the goalposts and the scoreboard because we have a sense of humor,” Sorrell says. The 2-acre farm was named “WE Over Me,” based on the college’s credo to consider others before self.

At first, going from touchdowns to tomatoes proved difficult. “We started familiarizing ourselves with farming using Google,” admits Sorrell. Most of the student workers had no farm background. “A lot couldn’t tell a weed from a vegetable,” says a former farm manager. “They’ve come a long way.”

In the fall, the farm, which uses organic practices but is not certified, grows crops such as zucchini, squash, carrots, radishes and all manner of leafy greens. Come spring, the farm produces tomatoes, okra, melons and more. There is also a fledgling orchard, a greenhouse housing an aquaponics system with tilapia, a chicken coop with laying hens and one lone duck.

The farm has grown more than 40,000 pounds of produce. Some 15,000 pounds of that has been distributed through the North Texas Food Bank or sold to local folks. The remaining produce is bought by five Dallas constituents: Café Momentum, Liberty Burger, Green Grocer, FM Provision catering and Legends Hospitality, the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium food service.

Dallas native and student farm worker Monicea Barnes says, “It seems hard when you start out, but when everything grows, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I know that I’m helping out people who need the help.”