Coming soon: A Dolphin Heights community gardener in residence

By Sujata Dand - May 12, 2021

South Dallas

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One of Anna Hill’s many chickens struts in the coop adjacent to the Dolphin Heights Community Garden. Photo by Nitashia Johnson

Anna Hill’s chickens trill as she walks up to the coop in her backyard. They’re certainly happy to see her.

“That’s Penelope running her mouth,” Hill says. “They all have names — Penelope, Ollie, Lacey, Gertrude, Big Lucy …”

Hill continues to rattle off the names of her chickens. She added them to her Dolphin Heights Community Garden about four years ago.

“I let them out in the evening, and I sit out here and have me a glass of wine,” Hill says. “They are a lot of fun and good company too. ”

The community garden next to Anna Hill’s Dolphin Heights home has been yielding produce since 2005, when her late husband Willie Hart started planting. Photo by Nitashia Johnson

Hill is 80 years old, but she looks and acts like she’s half her age. Still, age has a way of catching up to you on days you least expect it, and she says caring for the garden is getting more difficult — especially on those days. 

The community garden was her husband’s passion. Willie Hart died in 2019. 

As Hill tends to the chickens, volunteers from Texas Instruments (TI) Alumni Association are busy prepping the soil so she can add more vegetables. With eggs in her hands, she guides one of the volunteers to add more soil to a new patch in the garden. He jokes that they need younger volunteers out here because gardening is hard work.The average age of the volunteers from TI is 79. Hill agrees.

Volunteers from Texas Instruments (TI) Alumni Association spent a recent Saturday volunteering in the Dolphin Heights Community Garden with its caretaker, Anna Hill. Photo by Nitashia Johnson

Last year, Benje Feehan from [bc] Workshop was volunteering in the garden when he told Hill they needed to come up with a plan so that the garden can keep growing on those days when Hill feels her age. Their idea was to create a 450-square-foot cottage at the back of the garden property for an on-site gardener.

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Hill hoped it would “entice people who are studying agriculture in school to lease [the cottage] for a small amount and in turn help maintain the garden.”

The State Fair of Texas donated $5,000 and through a crowdfunding campaign, community members raised almost $4,000 for the project in just a few days. Soon afterward, the Addy Foundation came up with the rest — an additional $40,000.

“There’s been a lot of change in Dolphin Heights over the years, and most of that can be attributed to Ms. Hill,” says Ben Leal, president of the Addy Foundation

Leal met Hill a few years ago when he worked for Jubilee Park. He was dropping off leftover pumpkins from a Halloween event that Hill could use to make feed for her chickens.

Anna Hill collects eggs daily from her chickens, whom she calls “good company.” Photo by Nitashia Johnson

“I really do attribute my experience at my job in Jubilee in connecting me to organizations doing really good work,” Leal says. 

The Addy Foundation is a family foundation that began in 2015. Leal came on board in 2020 and directed the non-profit to be very intentional about grants focusing on ““the smaller organizations who have that trust and boots on the ground in the community.”

Eighty percent of the foundation’s giving goes to minority led organizations, Leal says. He was attracted to Hill’s proposal because of its positive domino effect in the community. 

“This creates an affordable housing option in the neighborhood, nutrition and food in the community, and a sense of pride,” Leal says, adding that community pride has lasting effects. “The best way to combat gentrification, which we know is coming to Fair Park, is an educated and engaged community. We combat gentrification with empowerment.”

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That’s something Hill understands all too well. It’s why she’s been the unofficial Mayor of Dolphin Heights for several years, constantly working to engage, improve and find solutions for her community. 

“It’s that heartstring story as well,” Leal says  “Ms. Hill has done so much in Dolphin Heights. [The grant] is a way to show appreciation to her.” 

The Texas Instruments volunteers joked with Anna Hill that they need younger people for such hard work. Hill, who is 80, agrees. She hopes the Dolphin Heights new community gardener in residence will bring new life to the land. Photo by Nitashia Johnson

As Hill takes a short rest on a lawn chair, she watches the volunteers.

“I can just see him out there working with them,” she says, remembering her husband.

The gardener-in-residence project will include a memorial to Willie Hart. The project is expected to get underway early this summer.

This story is part of a project on potential solutions to food insecurity in South Dallas and West Dallas. It’s reported through a partnership between Dallas Free Press and The Dallas Morning News, with support from the Solutions Journalism Network. Sujata Dand can be reached at sujata@dallasfreepress.com.

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