From Football Field to Organic Farm

Cheerleading for crops

Posted by Katie Marks | G+ | Nov 05, 2013
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Photo: USDA/FlickrOnly 250 students attend Paul Quinn College in Dallas, making it a small, intimate, and very cozy learning environment. It's also not the kind of school that really needs a football field, thanks to the small student body and the fact that football-oriented students have lots of schools to choose from. So when the administration decided to shut down the football field, despite complaints, the decision went forward and students were forced to adapt.

Fortunately, football was replaced with something even cooler in a rather bold remodeling move. While the goal posts remain, the high-maintenance field has been replaced by an organic farm overflowing with fresh veggies, some of which are sold to the neighboring community, while others end up in the local food pantry and the school cafeteria. It's a fantastic example of adapting energy-hogging landscaping (turf is very maintenance-heavy and needs a great deal of watering) to a more ecologically friendly use.

The school isn't leaving farm management to outsiders, either. Instead, it's integrating the farm into the curriculum, encouraging students to get involved on multiple levels with active work on the farm, management of contracts with clients who buy the produce, and studies of biology, soil science, and more on the grounds. It's safe to say this Dallas gardening initiative has been a major success.

Sweet potatoes, herbs, kale, mustard, turnips, tomatoes, cilantro, and more cover the former football field, while a chicken coop allows students to learn about small livestock management. One of the farm's biggest clients is actually the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, which buys a variety of ingredients for use in foods like fresh salsas.

Paul Quinn is located in an area officially tagged as a food desert, and many students at this historically Black college qualify for financial assistance and struggle to meet costs while in school. Providing a source of fresh food is a positive step for community relations, and the garden also offers employment: for $10 an hour, students can work on the farm, acquire skills, and get some produce as well. The system is a brilliant replacement for a costly program that the college couldn't afford to sustain, much though administrators and students might have wished.

The decision to turn to organic farming turned out to be a sound one. In addition to eliminating the expensive program, the farm actually brought in money; now it earns six figures annually, funding scholarships and other needs at the school. Farming at the WE Over Me plot brought back Paul Quinn from the brink of financial ruin, and it's changed the way the college interacts with the community as well as the way students learn and engage with the environment. Some might argue that's a pretty good price to pay for a football program.

Katie Marks writes for

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