Dallas is one of 27 U.S. cities selected for a federal program that uses food to help build economically stronger communities.
Called “Local Foods, Local Places,” the program was announced Monday and is a partnership between USDA and five additional agencies including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation.
The federal initiative, now in its third year, “helps communities increase economic opportunities for local farmers and related businesses, create vibrant places and promote childhood wellness by improving access to healthy local food,” according to a joint release from the agencies.
Dallas, one of 300 applicants, will receive technical assistance to create a local food branding campaign and establish a network among gardening and farming enthusiasts to “build public awareness, community cohesion, and relationships between growers and local businesses, and help community gardens share expertise and increase the size and variety of their yields,” the release said.
A “letter of interest” submitted as part of the city’s application focuses on issues such as childhood obesity and access to healthy foods, particularly in southern Dallas.
“For more than a decade, there has been a national effort to address childhood nutrition and obesity, along with addressing the prevalence of food deserts in urban centers,” the letter said. “Dallas’s southern sector struggles with these issues with the addition of neighborhood blight. Community gardens are one significant way in which to address these issues.
“There has been a groundswell of interest in Dallas for urban gardens, urban farms, and aquaponics as the potential resolve for community revitalization,” the letter said.
The letter also noted that many school and community urban gardens operate largely independently of one another. The city envisions a more unified approach.
“The first step may be in building a directory of urban gardens, urban farms, and neighborhood markets along with a contact list of local growers,” the letter said. “Because there are varying levels of expertise in the many components related to locally grown foods, it is crucial that a local council, association, assembly, or congress for mutual support and be formalized.”
The effort could help boost entrepreneurship as more would-be urban farmers get into the space, which could create more jobs, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Michael Sorrell is president of Paul Quinn College, where the 2-acre WE over Me Farm sees its mission as helping to “transform the health and well-being of under-resourced communities in southern Dallas by providing fresh, healthy, affordable food options.”
Sorrell was not aware of the city’s application for the program until today, but he hopes Paul Quinn will play a role in helping move the effort forward.
“People deserve an opportunity, in one of the wealthiest cities in the country, to have access to fresh and affordable food,” Sorrell said. “And your zip code should not determine whether that happens. We have to be better than that.
“So when I learn of the city applying for programs like this it gives me great hope, because it says that people hear [that message] and understand it and are doing things to help people help themselves.”
It was not immediately clear how much money the city will receive for the project.