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Texas Connects Us: Bonton Farms Plants Hope in the Middle of Dallas Food Desert

Surrounded by traffic, concrete, and corner stores is a 1.1 acre farm located in the middle of south Dallas.

Residents who live in Bonton, which is one of the oldest historic black neighborhoods in Dallas, did not decide to grow their own produce out of a desire to follow a food trend.

Just like the thousands of other people who live in the southern sector of one of the wealthiest cities in America, they live in a food desert.

“Bonton is one of the oldest black communities in Dallas, and it is a food desert,” said Patrick Wright. “I grew up here in the 60s, and there was a huge racial divide. There was nothing here. There were no businesses, no opportunities and for food all we had were the corner stores."

There are 40 “food desert” communities in the city of Dallas.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a low-income area where the residents have little to no access to quality grocery stores.

Daron Babcock, who was the driving force behind Bonton Farms, noticed the disparity between north and south Dallas when he moved from Frisco to Bonton.

“You start to see the lack of businesses and developments when you go south of I-30," Babcock said. "You can live here and never see the other side. Some people will never know the world of lack and poverty half of our city lives in."

A Tale of Two Cities

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is a unique mix of “big business” (both old and new), an explosive population growth and an economy that continues to out-perform.

In 2016, according to the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, DFW’s financial market value exceeds $500 billion.

The majority of that stunning growth within DFW (specifically the city of Dallas) is located north of Interstate 30.

While commercial, business and residential real estate opportunities sprout throughout north Dallas, there is a significant drought in the south.

I-30 serves as a “great divide” between those who have options and others who do not.

According to reports from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ “Task Force on Poverty,” Dallas leads the nation in inequity.

The poverty rate has increased 42 percent over the past 15 years.

In Dallas, there is a correlation between the lack of economic growth south of I-30, and the demographics for low-income residents.

In south Dallas, businesses (including quality grocery stores) are scarce.

Five months ago, the city of Dallas offered a $3 million incentive to any developer willing to build a quality grocery store in south Dallas.

According to Erik Wilson, who is the Deputy Mayor Pro Tem for the city of Dallas, “there have been zero proposals that meet the standards of a ‘quality’ grocery store.”

“We have the number one childhood poverty rate in the United States and that is unacceptable," Babcock said. "For a city that’s as prosperous as Dallas, that’s unacceptable. That we have 40 communities that are sick and dying that don’t have food. That’s unacceptable."

Daron began to notice the correlation between the lack of healthy food options and the high rate of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

“I got together with some of the men in the community and we decided to plant a garden. I didn’t know anything about farming. I’m a YouTube farmer. I learned everything off of the internet,” he said.

Their first garden was started in the parking lot of an old bar.

“There was no soil, just glass and gravel. You couldn’t even get a shovel in the ground," said Babcock. "This was a food desert. People thought we were crazy, but I thought it would be a great way to get healthy food and maybe we could even sell our produce."

Planting Seeds in the Middle of a Desert

After a few failed attempts, the small community garden began to flourish.

“The kids in the neighborhood loved the vegetables. They would help with the garden," Babcock said. "We needed more space. I bought one lot, then Habitat for Humanity donated land and the city of Dallas heard what we were doing and they donated a lot as well. Now, Bonton Farms is on 11 lots. We have pigs, goats, chickens and every kind of green vegetable. We are not only feeding the community. This farm is a place where you can come and be uplifted and cared for."

Daron left a corporate job in Frisco and moved to Bonton five years ago to help the families in the community.

“I started a small Bible study, and I thought maybe if I’m closer in the community, I can see the need and possibly help with work. I quickly saw the issues were multi-layered. I was changed. My eyes were opened, and my heart was changed,” said Babcock.

“I thought I was going to be the one to help them, but they helped me. What I learned from my friends and my neighbors in Bonton was a resilience. When I thought things were getting hard and I wanted to give up they would say, ‘this isn’t hard, you don’t know what hard is.’ I need that in my life," said Babcock. "I think we, as a people, miss out on that. We miss out on all of the other things different communities have to offer because we live in our own pockets. This farm plays a role in awakening the city to the disparities that exist from communities between communities."

After two years of running the farm, a generous donor recently gave him 48 acres to expand Bonton Farms.

“I am excited to see what Bonton Farms will do for the community years down the line. I hope this can be a model for other communities in Dallas," said Babcock. "I couldn’t have done this by myself, though. So many men and women in the community worked with me. We worked side by side, and we continue to build and grow. This wasn’t just my idea. Men from this community invested and worked for this."

That struggle has pulled the community together.

“We are breaking down the racial barriers. Every Saturday there are children and people here of all different colors. Some people are helping, some are just enjoying the farm or the animals. It’s a place of beautiful servitude,” said Wright.

To find out more information about Bonton Farms, click here.

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