A Smart Play
Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas told us during our interview something he tells students at the school, “Do good and do well.”
And that’s exactly what student-farmers are doing on the former football field there.
In 2010, Mr. Sorrell had a big idea: turn the under-utilized football field into the ‘We Over Me Farm’, a working, organic farm.
In an article on Texas Observer.com, author Janet Helmlich writes:
Sorrell describes the farm, which has been integrated into the college’s curriculum, as a service to the community. It’s also a way to make Paul Quinn, which turns 140 years old in April, more relevant than ever.
“To have an institution that focuses on, say, aeronautical engineering in a community that doesn’t have access to fresh food is a little bit silly,” Sorrell says.
Changing from field to farm had a couple of consequences.
First, the farm and the attendant learning is now part of the school’s curriculum. Students learn about soil health, planting, irrigation, composting, harvest and marketing the end products. They even manage an aquaponic system on the farm. Student-farmers grow an impressive list of produce including asparagus, radishes, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, spinach, a variety of leafy greens, garlic, blackberries and herbs including rosemary, chocolate mint and oregano, depending on the season.
Ms. Helmlich’s article continues:
Freshman Kendrich Jackson, from New Jersey, thought organic farming at the college would be a “crazy job,” but now he enjoys working on the farm. “I think it’s pretty cool just learning how fresh everything is, and how different it is from [what you find] in the market,” Jackson says.
Secondly, the college is located in Highland Hills, an area designated as a food desert. (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert) and the produce would provide healthy food to the surrounding low-income community.
On this subject, Ms. Helmlich states in her article:
Food for Good is just one example among a growing wave of support for ending food deserts. According to a study conducted by the Reinvestment Fund, which manages financing programs designed to attract supermarkets and grocery stores to underserved urban and rural communities, 25 million Americans live in areas with inadequate access to supermarkets. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 6.5 million children live in food deserts. Texas has fewer supermarkets per capita than any other state.
Turning students on to the tenets of agriculture and providing the school’s neighbors with fresh food is noble, admirable work.
The article concludes:
For Paul Quinn President Sorrell, establishing the farm is only a first step in combating the food desert in Highland Hills. He is also looking to open an on campus grocery store.
“We are fully committed to doing those things. We will do it ourselves. We will find the investors. We have the land. We can do these things right,” Sorrell says.
For now, Sorrell is dedicated to showing Highland Hills residents a way out of the food desert with the help of a dedicated team of students who raise crops where once touchdowns were scored.
“If all we did was teach [students] to get their education and leave and not improve their communities, then the cycle of poverty will never be broken,” Sorrell says.
Janet Heimlich is an independent journalist and former freelance reporter for National Public Radio. She is also the author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.
Photo Credit: Richard Adams | Edible Dallas & Fort Worth
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