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Dallas Area College Goes From Football to Farming

Learn how the We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College was established

By Teree Caruthers on August 31, 2015

Dallas
Courtesy of Paul Quinn College

Michael Sorrell was tired of being told no. For years, the president of the historically black Paul Quinn College had worked to get a grocery chain to open up in the college’s South Dallas neighborhood – even to the point of offering free land to build on.

A grocery store, Sorrell rationed, would not only bring a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to the neighborhood, which has been declared a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but could also serve as a place of employment for the college’s students. After facing several roadblocks, Sorrell and the college decided to take matters into their own hands.

“The neighborhood surrounding the college is in a food desert, and no one seemed to be particularly interested in helping us do anything about that,†Sorrell says. “In a traditional sense, we weren’t successful in getting grocery stores to come, and restaurants didn’t want to come, so we just realized that we could sit around and talk about this ’til we were blue in the face or we could reach out and try to solve the problem.”

Desert Oasis

Sorrell says Paul Quinn caught a break when Dallas businessman Trammell S. Crow expressed interest in starting a community garden on campus.

“At lunch he and I were talking, and he expressed his interest in community gardens, and I talked about how we had an abandoned football field on campus. That’s when he agreed to fund our community garden on the football field,†he says. “In the process of doing that, one of [Crow’s] staff members shared the story with Pepsi. Pepsi thought it was an amazing idea. [Representatives] came to visit and agreed to partner with us to turn the entire football field into a farm.”

Thus the We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College was born. The two-acre farm, which is entirely student-run, grows a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, including kale and sweet potatoes.

“We grow a little bit of everything,†Sorrell says. “We have an aquaponics tank and a greenhouse. We have beehives, and we make honey. We’ve got chickens, and we’ve got a little mini-orchard that we’re working on as well.”

Veggie Sales

The farm sells produce through the local farmers market, to the Green Grocer, the farm-to-table restaurant Hibiscus, the locally owned Cafe Momentum and to the Dallas Cowboys – the farm’s largest customer. The farm, which takes its name from the school’s motto, also donates 10 percent of its harvest to community food banks and hosts an educational camp for neighborhood kids.

“It’s a business, but we also embrace our social responsibility,†Sorrell says. “I think people thought it was a pretty unusual idea to turn our football field into a farm, especially since we don’t have an agricultural program, but we were doing it not so much to become farmers, but to make a statement about the scarcity of food in our community. We believe in We Over Me. The needs of the community supersede the wants of the individual. At the end of the day, we’re very much in step with our community, and people realize that we care about them and we’re out here fighting for them as well.”

At the end of the day, we’re very much in step with our community, and people realize that we care about them and we’re out here fighting for them as well.

Michael Sorrell
President, Paul Quinn College
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