If you haven’t heard, Daron Babcock is a pretty cool guy who gave up his cush North Dallas life to move to the South Dallas neighborhood of Bonton and start a farm in a food desert. The story I wrote about him at the beginning of the year ended with the two of us looking over a construction fence at the corner of Bexar and Vesper streets as they broke ground for a new market. Back then, Daron talked about wanting a place where people could buy fresh fruits, vegetables from the farm, and milk and butter (using SNAP cards, if necessary). He planned to have a cafe for hot meals and to offer classes to teach people how cook foods that don’t come in boxes or bags. Two weeks ago, that market opened. On Thursday, I stopped in to see how things were going.
Danny George, the manager of Bonton Farms, was sitting in his pickup in the parking lot when I pulled in. He immediately hopped out and escorted me around to the front of the market where Clifton, a self-professed greeter in a crisp plaid shirt and gold grillz who just likes to “love on everyone,” opened the door for me with a huge smile. Danny told me to order the hoppin’ John before he gave me a hug and headed back out, so that’s what I did. Then I took it all in.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the space was filled with light and warmth. One wall opened to the patio and the farm beyond, and another held an open floor-to-ceiling cooler full of fresh produce, milk, juices, eggs, yogurt, and cheese. There were neat rows of spices, dried pasta and rice, and canned beans. There was even a gift shelf full of Bonton Farms’ honey and pretty, wrapped beeswax soaps.
I spotted a sunburned Daron in the corner, and he gave me a hug before saying with a grin that he had to run out the door to sign the paperwork for two formerly homeless people who were getting homes that day. I said hello to “Trog” Trogdon, the farm vice president, who was having a lunch meeting in the corner, his salt-and-pepper curls even more spectacular than the last time I saw him. As Patrick Wright, who mans the Dallas Farmers Market stand, walked in and told me about his updates, which include a chicken coop where people can take selfies, a Habitat volunteer who was working on a house across the street stopped in to get a cup of coffee.
Then my lunch arrived. Under the direction of chef Justin Box of Cafe Momentum, Bolsa, and Cedars Social, it was a thing of stunning, simple beauty, just like the farm itself. Fluffy grains of California gold rice were topped with a Sea Island red pea gravy, generous chunks of smoked pork, mustard greens picked fresh from the farm, and a scattering of chicharrones for crunch. It was homey and familiar yet elevated. I could taste every element, from the bite of the greens to the creamy richness of the beans. It was better than anything I’ve had at Husk in Charleston. It cost $8.50.
You can also get fried catfish with collard greens, smoked pecans, and house pickles for $10, or a fried green tomato sandwich with house-made pimento cheese and a lemon dressing for $8. Open from 7 to 2 daily (on Sundays the market is open but they don’t serve food), there is also a breakfast menu, which includes a sweet potato hash, farmer’s breakfast sandwich with eggs from Bonton’s chickens, and a PBJ yogurt parfait with peanut butter, seasonal jelly, and banana granola.
On my way out, Danny stopped me again to say they had just had seven new kid goats, and he expected to have about another half-dozen in the next week or so. “You can tell people to bring their kids and they can take pictures with them,” he said.
I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with baby goats and red pea gravy. Added bonus: the parking and hugs are free.