Amid a pandemic, Restorative Farms plants seedlings for South Dallas growth

By Sriya Reddy - July 8, 2020

South Dallas

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Co-published by our media partner, The Dallas Weekly

South Dallas residentKaneeshaRedding built her own garden box in her backyard. She went to Lowe’s, picked out the wood and nailed it together.It was hergrandparents’ 20-acre farm in Louisianathat fosteredherdesireto garden.

“Growing up, I was used to eating corn and tomatoes from the farm,and as I grew older, I felt like I needed to get back to those basics,” Reddingsays. “For about the last 10 years, I’ve just been dabbling in, you know, trying to create gardens and garden spaces, growing food, because that’s what I feel like I need to get back to.”

Redding started volunteering withRestorative Farmswhen shelearnedthat they sell garden boxes, or what they call“GroBoxes,”similartothe onein her own backyard. She appreciates the waytheorganizationencouragesneighborsto create their own gardens.

“Restorative Farms empowers the individual,” Reddingsays. “You’re able to do it in your ownbackyard, in the comfort of your own home, in your own space—the possibilities are unlimited. That’s what I like. I like giving people an opportunity to have some freedom.”

More than 300 of Restorative Farms’GroBoxesare nowproducing basil, okra, peppers and morein backyards, front yards and patios across Dallas, including more than 50 in South Dallas.The organization shifted its focus to these portable wooden boxes in March as COVID-19 spread to the United States.

Restorative Farmshadplannedto work with the International Rescue Committee to start afarmersmarket program for entrepreneurial training.But farmers market revenuedriedup whenDallas County ordered residents to shelter in place, so the organization doubled down on marketing and sellingGroBoxestostayafloat.

It worked. Stuck at home, Dallas residents had more time to tend to gardens and began buying up theGroBoxes.

“Not only were we able to stay open with theGroBoxesbusiness,” saysOwen Lynch, co-founder of Restorative Farms, “we wereactually able to expand during coronavirus and hire two more farmers on to help us with theGroBoxprogram and delivery.”

Each box costs $110 and comes with six to 10 plants. Restorative Farmsdedicates10% ofGroBoxrevenue toprovideboxesforSouth Dallasneighbors. So far, Lynch says, they’ve sold257GroBoxesand were able to give 52 back to the South Dallas communitythey serve.

Restorative Farmsstartedin 2017as an advocacy group for farming and improving urban agriculture in South Dallas. They’vehelped plantcommunity gardensin the neighborhood,launchedtheSeedlingFarmwithin the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center’sFreedom Garden,and most recentlyopenedtheHatcher StationTrainingFarmjust west of the DART station.

Theirfocusis to combatDallas food deserts— areas where fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy whole foods are scarce— byworking with communities to grow their own food.

Redding, whonot only lives in South Dallas but also teaches atSt. Philip’s School, has helped deliverGroBoxesall over Dallas, including to families in her community. Shebelievesin Restorative Farms’ mission togiveher neighborsthe opportunity to be self–sustainingamid afood desert, wheregrocery stores with fresh produce arerare.

“Nine times out of 10, you have to leave your neighborhood.You have to go toUptown,you have to go to North Dallas to get groceries,” Redding says. “By having fresh produceright outside their bedroom door, iteliminates the need to go to other neighborhoods to find whatthey’re looking for.”

The ability to grab fresh veggies from the backyard instead of the grocery storeconvinced Hank Lawson, community engagement advisor withFrazier Revitalization, to buy aGroBoxas a birthday gift for his wife.

“Because of the structure and thesupportthey provided, they weren’t just giving us a box,” Lawsonsays. “They gave us a lot of help,and people are available to provide you with technical assistance as well.”

A few weeks after her birthday gift was planted, Lawson’s wife began harvestingcucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.

Frazier Revitalizationis a fiscal supporter of Restorative Farms.Lawson hasseen organizations comeinto South Dallas, use a vacant lot to create a gardenandabandonthe gardena year later. However, hesays,Restorative Farmsand theirGroBoxesaredifferent.

“TheGroBoxidea could have a different and long–lasting impact if there was technical support to the people who had the boxes in our neighborhood,” Lawsonsays. “It didn’t matter if you had a green thumb or not,as long asyou get access to a staff person who will walk you through the changes and all the things that apply to taking care of the box. I was really excited about that.”

Visitrestorativefarms.comtobuy aGroBox, ask to be put on the GroBox donation list,or inquire abouthow to volunteer.

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