Before Thanksgiving, the sixth grade class at St. John’s Episcopal School traveled to Bonton Farms, an urban farm in south Dallas. Students spent the morning hauling mulch to the vegetable garden, feeding pigs, collecting eggs, and taking an active role in life on a working farm, which was established to provide healthy food options at affordable prices for local residents.
Bonton Farms is in an area classified by the USDA as a food desert, in which residents do not have easy access to grocery stores or healthy food. Exacerbated by poor nutrition, the occurrence of disease in this community is far above the city average. Unemployment is high; drugs and gangs are common; and a staggering 85% of its male residents have served time in prison. These are harsh realities, but with the belief that an urban farm could transform a blighted community, a haven was created in 2014 to provide fresh food to people in the neighborhood. It has been very successful in its mission to serve as an “agricultural intervention to restore lives, create jobs and ignite hope in the most forgotten and neglected neighborhoods for the most marginalized and vulnerable people.”
Spearheaded by sixth grade English teacher Tony Adler, who felt that volunteering at the farm was a great opportunity for students to experience meaningful service – and the relationship with Bonton Farms has blossomed. The sixth grade class will return to the farm two more times during the school year, and many choose to visit individually on Saturday community workdays. Mr. Adler says these experiences have led to a “sense of common purpose and happiness that fills everything with love and joy.”
Sixth grader Hayden Elliott, who has volunteered several times, describes Bonton Farms as a “vibrant, bright green contrast” to the surrounding neighborhood. He and classmate Owen Shiels agree that it is fun to plant seeds and milk goats and learn about farm life, but it’s also rewarding to see how their efforts have helped Bonton Farms save a community. “It’s an amazing thing to be part of that,” says Owen.