We use cookies to provide important website functionality, improve your experience and analyze our site traffic. By using our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our cookies usage.

Food Reimagined: Power Back to the People - The YEARS Project

Food Reimagined: Power Back to the People

“South Dallas deserves beautiful things,” says Chris Simmons, the pastor that helped open a nonprofit market in his South Dallas neighborhood. This market is one of many efforts across South Dallas to create communities teeming with life. Pastor Simmons and his church highlight that everyone has a right to a safe community and a vibrant diet, regardless of their circumstances. In a city fraught with inequality, this sentiment is vital. 

Roughly 30-40% of our food supply in the United States gets thrown out each year, yet 13% of Dallas County residents live in food insecure households. Most of these households are located in South Dallas. South Dallas, cut off from its more affluent neighbors to the north by Interstate 30, is home to predominantly Black working class communities. These neighborhoods are called urban food deserts, which are communities where one-third of the population is more than one mile from the nearest supermarket. 

The word desert brings to mind a barren landscape, unfit for life. Deserts lack rain, plants, animals, sustenance. Without a constant flow of resources to the desert, humans, and most life, could not survive. The same is not true of a food desert. A food desert, by definition, has nothing to do with the physical landscape. They are not barren landscapes, but communities cut off from meaningful food supplies. They are low-income neighborhoods, often full of life and community,  ignored or outright abandoned by the government. The term misleads, and therefore manages to hide the deep, dark secret at the root of these food insecure neighborhoods: they didn’t happen by accident. This is not a food desert. This is food apartheid. 

Food apartheid, a term used by environmental justice groups, highlights the racist and discriminatory systems throughout time that have determined access to food. Processes like redlining in the 1930s and exclusionary zoning ordinances throughout the 19th and 20th century created a technically functioning system rooted in white supremacy. Despite making redlining illegal with the passing of the Community Reinvestment Act by Congress in 1977, the effects of the practice still persist in South Dallas. This is not the only action with a lasting legacy. Multiple highway expansions in the 1900s divided Black communities in half and segregated working class South Dallas from the upper class North Dallas. In 1923, Fair Park in South Dallas openly held Ku Klux Klan Day, and in the 1960s, the fair bought up land for parking lots and fencing to hide Black neighborhoods from rich, white fairgoers. Over a period of time through a variety of means, many poor Black Dallas residents were pushed to the Southern neighborhoods, separated from both their neighbors and their rich counterparts and subsequently abandoned. This was a purposeful, planned separation of a community. 

The consequences of food apartheid are vast. These low-income communities often lack reliable public or private transportation. For many South Dallas residents, highways separate them from the nearest supermarket, leaving them to waste multiple hours on one grocery trip or rely on local convenience stores that lack fresh produce. Grocery stores rarely invest in these communities because it is not profitable for their business. Yet, profitable or not, people need food to survive. One’s survival should never depend on a business’s ability to profit. People living in food-insecure neighborhoods are also at an increased risk of developing some chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. Food apartheid, therefore, is not just about food. It is a build-up of injustice over time that impacts every facet of a person’s and a community’s existence.

If the problem is rooted into the system itself, the only way to solve it is to uproot the  system. Then, start anew. Many environmental justice groups advocate for food sovereignty, a term coined by La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement formed in 81 countries in 1993. Food sovereignty refers to the peoples’ or the states’ right to define their own food and agricultural policy. It prioritizes local agricultural production, increased access to seeds, and increased rights for farmers and consumers. Food sovereignty, like food apartheid, addresses the systemic injustice in our global food system and calls on the need to craft something new. It is not just about food, but about the culture, community, and life that comes with food. It is about crafting walkable communities and increasing public transit. It is also about increasing access to local foods and building connections with neighbors. It is a difficult task, but across the neighborhoods of South Dallas, residents find ways to grow food and community in the spaces left barren by the broken system. 

Today, Bonton Farms, located in the Dallas neighborhood of the same name, has two farms, a farmer’s market, a cafe, and a coffeehouse, but it began as a tiny way to support the local community. In 2014, Daron Babcock turned his backyard into a small farm as a way to combat food insecurity. He wanted to strengthen Bonton not only by providing a consistent source of healthy food but also by creating space for community. He understood that growing tomatoes in his backyard would not at once heal his neighborhood. Because of this understanding, Bonton Farms provides nutritional programs, career mentorship, educational opportunities, housing initiatives, and multiple public spaces for crafting community and connection. It is organizations like this, by a community and for a community, that have the ability to revolutionize a neighborhood. 

With the help of another food justice group called Restorative Farms, more gardens have the potential to sprout up across South Dallas. This local nonprofit has taken on a variety of projects, including take-home ‘GroBoxes’ and their urban Hatcher Station Farm. Their first project, The Seedling Farm at MLK Freedom Garden, sparked the beginning of the movement back in 2017. The Seedling Farm helps connect interested community members with the resources and the education they need to start their own successful garden. Restorative Farms takes on the initial work of growing seeds into seedlings and passes on the plants to residents once they are established. Their work doesn’t end there. They continue to provide their expertise throughout the growing process to help ensure a successful harvest. Community gardens are a lot of work, and Restorative Farms has managed to not only create their own, but help ensure the success of others throughout Dallas.

Instead of gardening, Southpoint Community Market is selling. And they’re doing it for no profit. Cornerstone Baptist Church, with help from The Real Estate Council, opened the small market in 2021 on weekends only with space for local businesses on special occasions. Now, after two years of continued success, the market is open six days a week with the same low prices and community-oriented attitude. Prior to their opening in 2021, the market held meetings with community members to decide what foods to stock, and a suggestion box still sits inside for customer feedback. If groceries aren’t what you need, guests are invited to sit at the tables inside and spend time with neighbors. If the store turns any profit at all, the extra money goes toward further lowering the cost of the customers’ groceries. For many markets like this, local organizations help keep them afloat by covering the costs not made by the market itself. Whereas the main goal of a traditional grocery store is to turn a profit, this market’s aim is to provide food for a community that desperately needs it. 

The solution to food apartheid is all around us. If you live around Dallas, stop by the coffeehouse in Bonton or connect with Restorative Farms to help start a garden in your own community. If you live elsewhere, seek out your local farmer’s markets and community gardens using Farm Match, or join a CSA, which benefits both farmers and customers. Connecting with local markets is only the beginning. While changes to the food system are a necessary part of food sovereignty, we still need larger structural changes to create a truly beautiful future. We need markets with fresh produce from local farmers, but we need reliable buses and clean sidewalks to get us there. We need communities that have healed from past systemic injustices where residents can not only survive but thrive. We need fresh soil to help sow the seeds of community and collaboration. 

I get caught up in Pastor Simmons’s sentiment because it feels so fundamentally human. It is a member of a community saying, “We are here, we exist, and we deserve to live a full life!” Communities all across the country are shouting the same words and finding hope in one another. Investing in your community is hard work, but it is vital work. There are an abundance of groups all across Dallas, and the country, fighting food apartheid in their communities. By joining these spaces, we can nourish communities into places that are overflowing with life. Where we are connected not only to one another, but to the ground and the food it grows.