In an effort to end food deserts, Dallas approves Urban Agriculture Plan to bring fresh produce to underserved areas

In an effort to end food deserts, Dallas approves Urban Agriculture Plan to bring fresh produce to underserved areas
In an effort to end food deserts, Dallas approves Urban Agriculture Plan to bring fresh produce to underserved areas

The Dallas City Council on Wednesday approved a comprehensive urban agriculture plan aimed at increasing neighborhood growing space and providing access to healthy, local food.

Goals outlined in the Comprehensive Urban Agriculture Plan could serve equity priority areas with high minority populations by increasing the area of ​​local growing sites from seven to 17 acres by 2027.

Council members praised the program — and the fact that there is no associated cost to taxpayers, at least not immediately.

Director of Environmental Quality and Sustainability Carlos Evans and Urban Agriculture Coordinator Rabekha Siebert presented the plan to council last week ahead of Wednesday’s vote. The plan meets the goals outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan and Racial Equity Plan to support the local agricultural ecosystem in communities overburdened by environmental pollution, Evans said.

The urban agriculture plan’s impact on neighborhoods

So what does all this mean for communities and neighborhoods?

District 14 Councilman Paul Ridley asked about the legal relationship between growers using city-owned land for urban agriculture businesses.

“One of the mechanisms that has been proposed for using city property would be to have a license, so it’s either a tenant or a licensee,” a city official said. “These terms and conditions I would anticipate would be set out in the underlying agreement.”

Ridley said a license would be preferable and would provide greater property rights.

City leaders have experienced mistrust from marginalized communities that have been left out of past development plans, particularly under Interstate 30 in south Dallas, Siebert said.

When it comes to an urban agriculture plan, such communities are prioritized, she added.

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District 11 Councilwoman Jaynie Schultz said a proposed plat requirement is cumbersome and possibly too onerous.

“I think having one [certificate of occupancy] holding the producer accountable,” she said. “We as a city need to know who’s growing where, and they should present a plan on how to do that.”

[Editor’s note: founder and publisher Candace Evans is running against Schultz in the May 6 election for the District 11 seat.]

Dallas Water Utilities Director Terry Lowery discussed how growers can connect to the city’s water system and apply for water conservation grants.

Carlos Evans said talks are ongoing about land and water, but they are not yet in the process of evaluating fees for farmers markets.

An initial engagement survey of about 700 people in the Dallas city limits showed that 71 percent of respondents were interested in farming on city-owned land.

“When we asked them how the city should support urban agriculture, [they said] through land access and resources,” Siebert said.

The products can be distributed to food banks, recreation centers or sold for profit, Siebert said. A mobile vendor permit is active for roadside produce stands, she added.

“One of the metrics is to increase local commercial food procurement,” she said. “We track productive area, not kilos of food. I don’t see that there are any restrictions. If they grow produce for profit, the restrictions of USDA Food Safety operate. If they are a non-profit organization, those restrictions will be based on their non-profit organization.”

Buy local campaign

While discussions of urban agriculture usually bring to mind community gardens, there are other opportunities for those – nonprofit and for-profit – who want to participate.

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Backyard “micro-farms”, roof gardens, food like landscapes, aquaponics and hydroponics are also supported by the plan.

“Our long-term goal is to facilitate connections between agricultural producers and food buyers in coordination with other city plans that support a more sustainable food network,” said City Manager TC Broadnax.

The plan also aims to prevent food waste through donations, recycling, diversion and composting.

After increasing urban acreage and supply, Evans said, his department will then build market opportunities by implementing a “buy local campaign” and connecting producers with local buyers.

Environmental justice advocate Kathryn Bazan said Wednesday that the plan has the potential to create transformative change for people who need food and grow food in Dallas.

“We don’t have a robust local food system in Dallas, and we haven’t historically made it easy to start growing food, but with this comprehensive urban agriculture plan, we have another tool to close the gap between families and their ability to access nutritious affordable food,” Bazan said.

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