LA BAJADA URBAN YOUTH FARM TAKES ROOT IN WEST DALLAS
October 25, 2017
UTA, nonprofit plow ahead with plans for community farm in West Dallas
December 24, 2013
By ROY APPLETON
Published: 23 December 2013 11:46 PM
Updated: 24 December 2013 12:16 AM
For years, the open space near the Bataan Community Center was all about athletics and play.
An idea taking root would make it a land of different opportunities.
Dollars and details need to be worked out. But the University of Texas at Arlington and a West Dallas-based nonprofit group are plowing ahead with plans for a community farm near the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.
The goal: Provide healthy food, jobs, education and more in an area of modest incomes and emerging development minutes from downtown.
For now, the effort is built on an agreement between UTA and West Dallas Community Centers, owner of almost 5 acres in the La Bajada neighborhood.
The nonprofit would provide land for the farm. UTA architecture students would design the site and structures, plus create a master plan for the entire property. And both parties would collaborate on fundraising and organization.
“We hope this would be an innovative project that would bring positive attention to the neighborhood,” Don Gatzke, dean of the UTA School of Architecture, told a group of West Dallas residents last week at the Bataan center.
The operation would be modeled on the Grow Dat Youth Farm, a venture of Tulane University and others in a New Orleans park.
The as-yet-unnamed West Dallas farm would produce organically grown vegetables, perhaps herbs and fruit. Area youths would learn about agriculture, nutrition, economics, teamwork and responsibility while earning money with hands-on work.
Volunteers would be involved. Ideas tested. Obesity confronted. And the site could be a community gathering spot.
“It’s a variation on what might be a public park,” Gatzke told the group.
The farm probably would start with 2 to 3 acres of cultivation, he said. Ten to 15 graduate-level architecture students will begin design work early next year under the direction of teacher and landscape architect Kevin Sloan.
Concepts will be presented to neighboring residents in the spring. Options will be explored. In time, continuing financial support would be required to sustain the farm’s staff and operation.
“We believe there is some real interest from a lot of people,” said Gatzke. “We think we can put together a package of funding initially and for a number of years.”
It’s too early to publicly identify financial supporters, he said. But Hannah Koski, manager of Paul Quinn College’s WE Over Me Farm, will provide technical expertise.
Since 2010, students at the southern Dallas school have grown vegetables and herbs at its former football field with the backing of PepsiCo. This year’s harvest for sale and donation totaled about 15,000 pounds, Koski said.
The West Dallas project has drawn interest from the developers of Trinity Groves, blocks from the farm site.
West Dallas Investments shares ownership in multiple Trinity Groves restaurants and “will certainly” buy produce from the farm, said Phil Romano, a partner in the investment group.
The operation would benefit the community as well as local chefs, he said. “It’s a good idea and we support it.”
The West Dallas Chamber of Commerce is interested, too. The chamber supports any project in West Dallas that “has the support and the incorporation of the people in the immediate neighborhood and brings jobs and enhanced quality of life,” said Jeff Herrington, a chamber spokesman.
Residents of the La Bajada neighborhood, wary of encroaching development, successfully petitioned the City Council to limit building heights. That would help preserve the area’s single-family presence.
The farm project wouldn’t affect the Bataan center’s after-school programs for children, said Karen Factory, a member of the nonprofit group’s board. But it would change the scene and raise the energy at its La Bajada property.
Residents who spoke at last week’s meeting said they liked the concept.
Frank DeLeon, a La Bajada longtimer, suggested including a baseball field at the site. Ronnie Mestas, president of the new neighborhood group West Dallas 1, wondered about adding a pavilion. The possible involvement of Pinkston High School design students was discussed.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Eva Elvove, a La Bajada leader, urging more public communication about the project. “I’d like to see it grow, but I’d like to see more people involved.”
That will happen, Gatzke and Sloan said, in the months to come.