Daron Babcock admits before founding Bonton Farms, he’d never really grown anything.
The South Dallas urban farm director told guests Thursday night at The Grove coworking space that he didn’t intend to become a farmer either.
“It was never the idea to start a farm. The idea was to always walk with these men who were looking and fighting for a better life for themselves,” Babcock said.
As part of the Workbench@TheGrove speaker series, Babcock recounted how he left his corporate job and home in Frisco to settle into the impoverished South Dallas neighborhood of Bonton. Once there, he hoped to make a difference in people’s lives.
“The idea was to always walk with these men who were looking and fighting for a better life for themselves.”
Through the support of the Christian nonprofit H.I.S. BridgeBuilders, Babcock first gathered a group of men whose rap sheets made securing employment difficult, to do odd jobs in the neighborhood. The goal: establish a new “record” for those folks through work experience that could later be served up as evidence to potential employers.
After learning about the area’s designation as a food desert, he decided to transform a piece of land next to his house into a garden with help from the men.
Now, that small garden project on Bexar Street has blossomed to almost 40 acres including a donated parcel off Seagoville Road. Much of that donated acreage hasn’t been farmed yet.
Produce cultivated from the land is sold to the city’s top chefs and local farmers markets. But, more importantly, it’s bringing fresh food and jobs to South Dallas where access to both resources is scarce, Babcock said.
“It’s not like we’re in some third world country … We’re in [Dallas] and we have people that are sick and dying simply because they don’t have access to food,” he said.
“It’s not like we’re in some third world country … We’re in [Dallas] and we have people that are sick and dying simply because they don’t have access to food.”
His agricultural endeavor has sparked interest from community members — and from city hall. Last year, the Dallas City Council updated its community garden ordinance to give more clarity for urban farming operations like Bonton Farms.
Babcock’s long-term goals include adding a market to the farm’s original plot, where its goods can be sold indoors and community members can come to learn about food preparation or maybe take a nutrition or yoga class.
Eventually, he hopes fresh food access will filter into other areas of Dallas where it’s limited, whether that’s through replicating the Bonton Farms model or thinking up something new. He wants to get others involved, too, such as partnering with area culinary programs to offer more opportunities.
“I think in our country, we are masters at hitting the bulls eye at the wrong target,” Babcock said. “We look at the symptoms and we try to put a Band-Aid on the symptoms. So, we have to take a deeper dive and look at the root causes of things and address those first …”
“For me, and the people that I have come to know and love, having access to food and having proper nutrition is one of the foundational components.”
NUMBERS AT A GLANCE
Here are some statistics that Babcock shared during his presentation Thursday:
In Bonton, 1 in 4 children are born to teenage mothers.
Eighty percent of childbirths in Bonton are to unwed mothers.
The high school graduation rate is 54 percent.
Forty-three percent of residents live below the poverty line.
The average median household income in Bonton is $19,213.
Bonton has zero grocery stores.
The Bonton area has 54 percent higher rate of heart disease than Dallas county, 61 percent higher rate of stroke, 58 percent higher rate of cancer, and 300 percent higher death rate from diabetes.
Dallas has No. 1 childhood poverty rate for cities larger than 1 million people in the nation and ranks No. 3 in overall poverty in nation.
If the Dallas-Fort Worth region were a country, it would rank No. 23 for the largest economies in the world having surpassed a $500 billion gross metropolitan product last year.
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