Dallas skate park 4DWN tackles food desert with veggies and rad garden
Dallas native Mike Crum lived the skateboarder dream, traveling the world, living the life as a skateboarder, competing in the X-Games, all before he turned 30.
But he's had an even more profound role since he retired from the sport, in a direction he never anticipated.
After skating for nearly half his life, Crum ended his professional career in his 30s and returned to Dallas - but could find no place to skate. That quest has evolved into an endeavor that literally feeds the community.
It began in 2012 when he partnered with Rob Cahill, a fellow skater and entrepreneur, to build the kind of U-shaped "vert ramp" they favored, for their own use. By 2015, they'd opened 4DWN, a skatepark named for a maneuver called "four wheels down," located at 2633 Ferris St., in a heavily industrial area near I-30 and I-45.
Neighborhood kids started coming around and so they added a $5 cover charge. That didn't last long.
"The kids who were coming would be paying in change, and it just felt weird charging them to skate," Crum says.
To keep the doors open, they would host events, art shows, and live music. With some advice from friends in the nonprofit world, they switched to a nonprofit model, supported by grants and partnerships with companies like Dickies.
The gift of food
A skate place in that neighborhood made them a magnet for kids looking for something to do and a place to belong. They discovered that some who came to spend time on the half pipe were also hungry.
“We found that something wasn’t right and wanted to try to help,” Crum says.
They not only fed the kids but got into food distribution in the community, thanks to donations from benefactors like Whole Foods and Dive Cuisine in Snider Plaza. On Sundays from 9-11 am, they host 4DWN Food Rescue, in which they distribute healthy food - nothing boxed, canned, or processed - to 200 to 300 families a week.
Up to 50 volunteers show up to help assemble donated food packages. There’s art, music, it’s all a party. A documentary about their efforts, aptly titled 4DWN, has been making the film festival rounds this year.
The art of gardening
Now there's another expansion: The construction of a hydroponic garden tucked beneath the vertical ramp platform, where they'll grow racks of microgreens. It will be a state-of-the-art grow facility with a climate-controlled area, with viewing windows, LED lighting, and a water recycling system.
"We tried it out with one rack in the shop, and now this is a full build-out in a space that wouldn't be used for anything else," Crum says.
As ever, they've attracted other altruistic partners along the way including Oak Cliff Veggie Project, who will help sell the microgreens, teach classes, and conduct field trips.
Construction began in early summer, and the ramp has been dormant, although they still host random events. Once construction is finished, they'll re-open the ramp in spring 2024.
But Crum and Cahill, along with Theresa Tumminia, 4DWN’s director of engagement and community outreach, have kept their food distribution efforts thriving.
"When volunteers come in on Sundays, sometimes the kids come and can skate - the whole family helps," Crum says. "Skateboarding draws the people in, and then they learn about the mission.”