Local News

This Farmers Market Could Quell South Dallas’ Food Desert

With the help of Good Local Markets, Paul Quinn College's weekly farmers market brings healthy food options to a crucial part of the city.

The We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College sits on what used to be the school’s football field. About seven years later, the goalposts remain, as do the stadium lights. But in between the sidelines are onions, radishes, dill, cilantro, and arugula. A row of soil beds, the first vegetables planted here, sit behind the visiting end zone. This summer brings a new rotation of crops and the inauguration of the Paul Quinn Farmers Market, a small gathering of vendors who will convene outside the college’s entrance on Simpson Stuart Road from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Thursday. The market is run by Good Local Markets, the organization behind the White Rock and Tyler Street farmers markets.

But Paul Quinn’s market is different. The campus at which it’s based lies squarely within a federally recognized food desert, and the market, along with the neighboring farm, aims to alleviate South Dallas’s food woes.

Last Thursday, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell held the big scissors and snipped a ribbon that hung between two vendor stalls. James Hunter, the farm’s director, stood next to him, cradling a bushel of carrots that matched the bright orange frames on his sunglasses. Hunter spent most of his time stocking vegetables at the stall that featured produce from the We Over Me Farm. Among the other vendors were Highway 19 Produce—a family owned farm in the East Texas town of Athens—Hippos and Hashbrowns, and The Texas Honeybee Guild.

Everyone there has local ties—Good Local Markets only accepts vendors from within a 150-mile radius of Dallas. And while other farmers markets sometimes feature luxury products like handmade jewelry and accessories, the Paul Quinn Market is sticking mostly to fresh, affordable food.

Paul Quinn’s effort to feed South Dallas is hardly the first of its kind. Last week, the City Council voted to give $100,000 to Bonton Farms, a community farm looking to add on a marketplace and cafe. Officials have also tried courting big supermarkets like HEB by offering $3 million to developers, without success. Some have suggested that money instead be sent to corner stores, the tiny grocers that already sell things like bagged snacks, candy, and processed canned goods, to allow them to start stocking healthy options as well.

But Darciea Houston, a Paul Quinn graduate and Texas A&M Master Gardener who’s returned to PQC to work as the lead farm hand, sees this as getting away from the issue. “You go over there and look at that lettuce that looks like it just had a stroke!” Houston says, pointing in the direction of a convenience store. There should be places devoted exclusively to giving out healthy food, and they need to be places people want to visit, she says.

Across from Houston’s stall, a chicken pecked at its cage. The playlist on someone’s stereo switched over to a Jackson 5 tune. The crowd was modest, but if fighting food scarcity means getting the community invested, the market has provided the venue. Working at the We Over Me Farm was Hunter’s first farming job, one he prepared for by buying “200 books on Amazon.” Now he’s responsible for nurturing two-acres worth of plants, a few chickens, a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse, and a pool of tilapia.

The garden’s popularity and influence are expanding, and the college’s farmers market could serve as a catalyst. At first, residents set up appointments to come to the farm and purchase produce, Hunter says. That’s looking less feasible as the operation continues to grow. But in Hunter’s mind, that’s a good thing. “You can’t just hand someone a bunch of fennel and tell them, ‘here, eat healthy,’” he says. Hunter thinks the next step is to offer classes on cooking and nutrition.