Communications Associate Emily Wilson accompanied the Science and Sustainability Class on a field trip to We Over Me Farm on Monday, April 29. She shares her experience below:
On a sunny April morning, a Greenhill bus turns off the highway, well south of downtown Dallas. Science teacher Michelle Smith addresses the seniors of her third trimester Science and Sustainability elective. “We’re now entering an urban food desert,” she says.
A food desert is a district with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh produce and affordable healthy food. The people who live in the Highland Hills neighborhood of south Dallas have lots of churches, fast food options, an occasional convenience store at a gas station—but no grocery store.
Paul Quinn College, the Greenhill bus’ destination, is also located in this neighborhood, and has turned this problem into an opportunity. In 2007, the college closed its winless, money-draining football program and started thinking about ways to better serve the community. A PepsiCo grant in 2010 made this happen. The football field was converted into We Over Me Farm, a 300,000 sq-ft plot of plantable space, which now, under the oversight of farm manager Andrea Bithell, successfully grows organic fruit and vegetables, houses chickens and bees, and features an aquaponic growing lab.
This field trip to We Over Me Farm fits perfectly into the Science and Sustainability curriculum that Mrs. Smith has designed, working with Director of Service Learning Sally Rosenberg, who also chaperoned the trip. Mrs. Smith, who has been teaching the class now for three years, explains the objective. “The class intends to examine how we use our natural resources and how we define sustainable living, while providing students with an active service learning opportunity.” Every year, the students vote on the theme of the class. Weighing options that range from recycling to LEED Building certification, this year they have chosen to focus on food. Throughout this trimester, the class has worked in the Greenhill community garden, making significant strides like building a rain collection device, fundraising for the effort, harvesting two beds of produce and donating the food to North Dallas Shared Ministries.
Now at the farm, students are met by volunteer coordinator Vina Lervisit who takes them on a tour of the facility. They learn about the four C’s of the farm’s mission: to give back to the college’s cafeteria, provide discounted produce to the neighborhood community, sell to chefs, restauranteurs, and farmers markets, and give 10% to charities. They meet the chickens, who have been recently joined by two Greenhill peacocks. They walk through the rows of plants, still oriented and identified by the football yard lines, home and visitors side. They visit the compost pile, reciting optimal breakdown methods they’ve learned from class: half dry, half wet; half brown, half green. And finally they witness the farm’s aquaponics lab, where raising fish aids the fertilization and watering process of plants.
The volunteer’s assignment of the day was to weed two rows and plant jalapeno peppers and tomatoes, which the group did efficiently, taking care to plant them at appropriate depth and distance from each other. When the job was done, everyone boarded the bus and turned out of the college. This time Mrs. Rosenberg went a different way. She took the students on a tour of the neighborhood to view the urban desert firsthand. The bus, which had been full of chatter and laughing, grew silent. Students noted observations such as bars on windows, dilapidated buildings, and people waiting at uncovered bus stops. Not a grocery store in sight after more than five miles.
It is Mrs. Smith’s hope that her students will take world views of sustainability that they have discussed in class and apply them to the everyday habits that they form throughout their lives. In fact, our future depends on it.