Food Deserts

Dallas combats food desert with new seedling farm to help grow your own

Dallas combats food desert with new seedling farm to grow your own

Photo of tomato seedling
Growing from a seedling can be easier than growing from a seed. Photo by Marshall Hinsley

Dallas' urban farming community is coming together to help combat a food desert in South Dallas by launching a source of low-cost plants for gardeners. The new Seedling Farm will open at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center's Freedom Garden, at 2922 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., where it will sell seedlings to individuals and community gardeners.

The Seedling Farm is a collaboration between Owen Lynch, an associate professor at SMU Meadows School of the Arts, and Dallas urban farm organizations. Lynch also serves as president of Get Healthy Dallas, a nonprofit, urban farm consulting agency.

"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," Lynch says in a release.

"In fact, South Dallas is one of the largest food deserts in the country," he says. "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."

The Seedling Farm will be open year-round and will provide a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetable plants at a nominal cost, along with professional in-person advice. Community members — both individuals and groups — can participate via four steps: "meet, select, grow, and go."

  1. Meet with Seedling Farm manager Tyrone Day, an urban farm expert with a horticulture degree and more than 20 years of experience.
  2. Select the best types of plants for the resident’s garden, with Day's counsel.
  3. The selected seeds will be grown at the farm until they have matured into young seedlings ready for planting.
  4. 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 Seedling Farm’s goal is to produce 20,000 young plants each year.

Studies show that community gardens have high closure rates and are often not economically viable. Lynch has been working with the Hunt Institute, whose focus is to research and pilot farming systems with the potential for aggregation to co-develop and encourage a sustainable food economy.

Lynch says that research shows that community gardens can achieve bigger gains if the community gardeners have access to local experts and seedlings. "That is a big part of what the Seedling Farm is about," he says. "To encourage, support and — if needed — teach local residents how to get the most from their urban gardens. It also serves as a source of healthy, low-cost plants."

Providing seedlings instead of seeds is an important factor. "The process of going from a seed to a seedling is the most vulnerable stage in a plant's life," Day says. "At the farm, we raise them in controlled conditions with constant monitoring, and also prepare them for transportation to community and home gardens."

Jump-starting gardens by planting viable young seedlings, instead of seeds, means the plants are more likely to survive, mature faster, and produce fruits or vegetables more quickly. The seedlings are grown in an industrial greenhouse structure funded by a grant from SMU Lyle School of Engineering’s Hart Center for Engineering Leadership.

The Seedling Farm will also provide job training, with the support of Miles of Freedom, a nonprofit that helps previously incarcerated men and women gain employment and re-entry into society. Lynch and his partners are using the farm to identify and train community members to become future urban farmers.

An opening event takes place on November 21, with presentations at 11:30 am by Lynch and Day, plus Pamela Jones, manager of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center; and DeVincent Martin, a South Dallas native and master’s student in SMU Lyle School of Engineering doing research on urban farming.

The event will also include tours, demonstrations, and family activities. Attendees can take home a seedling for their own gardens.

The new Seedling Farm is a collaboration of multiple organizations. Partners include the MLK, Jr. Community Center, Big Tex Urban Farms, The State Fair of Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife,  and the Hunt Institute for Humanity and Engineering and Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, both at SMU Lyle School of Engineering.

Community supporters include the Austin Street Center, Café Momentum, Connecting City to Farm, and Miles of Freedom.

The local community garden network includes Behind Every Door – Village Oaks, Bonton Farms, Jubilee Park Community Center, Lincoln High School, Mill City Gardens, St. Philip’s School Garden, and Sunny South & Nella Roots.