Big Tex Urban Farms has been growing fresh fruits and vegetables since 2016. In 2018, the Farms established a goal of providing one million servings of food to its neighbors in the South Dallas community. Now, that goal is in reach.
More than 850,000 servings of food have now been provided to the local community by Big Tex Urban Farms since 2017. That amounts to more than 80,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables. In total, 884,180 servings have been distributed and 81,297 pounds of food have been harvested since the Farms laid out its ambitious goal. As of October 20, Big Tex Urban Farms has grown 19,292 pounds of produce, including 19,061 hydroponic heads of greens, totaling 169,095 servings in 2021 alone.
“It’s so much food, it’s so many servings,” Drew Demler, director of horticulture at the State Fair, said. “It’s just an astronomical amount of food. Just to give you some idea of what we’re talking about, last year alone we did—I think it was 26,000 pounds and we were over 20,000 pounds a year ago… So, it’s a lot of food. It was definitely a lofty, very ambitious goal that we set for ourselves.”
Big Tex Urban Farms has grown substantially since its humble beginning. When it first started, it consisted of 100 raised planter boxes in a parking lot near the State Fair of Texas’ administration building, giving out food at a local farmers market on Fridays. Now, it encompasses the entire Errol McCoy Greenhouse on the State Fair of Texas Midway in Fair Park.
It’s here where the Farms’ revolutionary mobile hydroponic agriculture systems, including a Nutrient Film Technique system (NFT), grow racks, and a gutter slab system, grow everything from arugula, cucumbers, kohlrabi, micro-greens, peppers, soy, tomatoes, and zucchini.
As part of the State Fair of Texas’ efforts to give back to South Dallas, all the food produced by Big Tex Urban Farms is donated to organizations serving the surrounding communities. Many of these neighborhoods are designated as food deserts by the USDA. Food deserts are low-income areas with limited access to personal vehicles or public transit and no grocery stores within a mile.
Living in a neighborhood that falls within a food desert means fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t as easy to come by. The lack of healthy food can have a big impact that reaches far beyond a single community. In 2012, the Texas Comptroller’s office estimated that illnesses associated with poor nutrition resulted in healthcare costs and productivity loss totaling $11.1 billion in Texas annually.
“It’s our own neighborhood,” Demler said. “Fair Park and South Dallas is our home and it’s important to us to give back and help out in our own community. There are also enormous needs and very limited access to what we grow, especially.
“I think there’s a bit of a misconception. It’s not necessarily that a ton of people are starving. There is food, it’s just not healthy. So, we’re trying to change people’s collective consciousness about their eating habits and providing fresh vegetables—it’s just different. It’s locally grown, it looks different, it tastes different, and we just want to be consistent about getting it out there so that people can become more interested in it.”
The connections that Big Tex Urban Farms has made in the community came about organically, according to Demler, but they’ve all helped grow and further the mission of the Farms. Organizations including Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute at the Juanita J. Craft Community Center, Bonton Farms, CitySquare, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church, FJV Foundation, Jubilee Park Community Center, Oak Cliff Veggie Project, Parkland Hospital, POETIC, The Bridge, and TR Hoover Community Development Corporation collect and distribute the produce grown by Big Tex Urban Farms.
Demler has also helped establish dozens of community gardens in the neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park. The Farms also works with local culinary programs—donating produce and herbs—that teach job skills.
It hasn’t always been easy, though. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide freeze in February 2021 provided plenty of setbacks. Nonetheless, Big Tex Urban Farms continues to plow forward. Having already surpassing the 800,000 serving mark, Demler thinks it is entirely possible that the Farms reaches its goal of donating one million servings of fresh produce within the next few months.
“If everything goes according to plan and we don’t have any more colossal hiccups here, I think we can get there by January 1,” Drew said. “I think that’s realistic. I do. I think we got an outside shot at it.”
As a nonprofit organization, your annual visit to the State Fair of Texas – our largest fundraiser of the year – helps fund Big Tex Urban Farms. For more information on the Farms and its annual donations, please visit BigTex.com/BTUF.