Restorative Farms Founder Talks Sustainable Food Projects

Restorative Farms
Restorative Farms | Restorative Farms

Despite many people having never heard of Restorative Farms in South Dallas, the nonprofit is growing two things that help empower low-income communities: a nutrition-dense urban sustainable agrisystem and jobs.

The Dallas Express had the opportunity to speak with Brad Boa, co-founder and director of partnerships and collaboration for Restorative Farms.

To create the organization’s first working farm in its agrisystem, Hatcher Station Farm, the nonprofit leased a 0.39-acre lot from Dallas Area Rapid Transit for $10 per year as part of a “beautification lease.”

Hatcher Station Farm is dedicated to nurturing new farmers, farm managers, entrepreneurs, leaders, and community stewards who can contribute to the local economy and promote healthy living. The farmers at the training center utilize smart irrigation systems, crop rotation methods, and other sustainable practices to ensure high yields and healthy soil.

Boa’s dedication to the community is holistically circular in that he wants to educate and empower people to feed themselves and their families healthy foods, strengthening not only their bodies but also their skill sets. The hope is that this will lead to jobs that will enable them to afford better food choices and, consequently, not be as prone to sickness.

“60% of Americans have chronic disease based on what we eat,” said Boa. “Those chronic diseases are magnified in underserved communities.”

Boa explained that because people have so many easy-access, lower-cost food and calorie choices at their disposal, they are getting sick, primarily due to ultra-processed foods.

Research has found that the body processes calories differently depending on their quality. Ultra-processed foods tend to be low in nutritional value and high in calories, refined sugars, salt, and fat, consequently contributing to the country’s obesity crisis.

“Ironically, in the prosperity of all the calories we have, we are making ourselves sick,” said Boa.

Boa noted that the return on investment regarding how money is used for urban agriculture has not been sustainable.

“People always say the problem is land. I’m the one person saying that land is not the issue,” explained Boa. “We can go get in my pickup truck, and I can take you to eight or nine or 10 failed urban gardens or farms in churches or communities where people put hard-earned money, time, and effort into it, and then it fails.”

Boa maintained that the issue has been people.

“I want to make sure I’m doing something that is sustainable, not something that makes people feel good for a weekend,” said Boa. “Farming is hard work. We need people who know what they’re doing so we can have a measure of success — people who want to do it and people who can continue doing it.”

Boa works with Richard Miles, founder of Miles of Freedom. Miles was wrongfully convicted at the age of 19 for murder and aggravated assault and was sentenced to 60 years. He spent 15 years in prison before his innocence was recognized, and he walked out of Dallas County jail on October 10, 2009. Miles of Freedom helps to bridge the gap from “prison to promise,” per its website.

“Every month or so, 700 people are dropped into the southern sector from the Texas prison system. Where do they go? How do they get back on their feet? Richard’s group helps to do this,” said Boa.

“In 2015, Richard, knowing my interest in agriculture, pointed out that there was a garden at the back of the MLK Community Center that was never sustained. So, we gathered some funds and some people, and in the spring of 2016, we rejuvenated the garden. By July, the garden was dead again,” he said, illustrating his point that people were the primary challenge more than a lack of land.

“Again, you have to look at the return on investment,” explained Boa. “The hours that you put into something. If it ends with you, it’s not sustainable.”

Boa stressed that in some upper-class neighborhoods, gardening is a hobby considered to be fun and therapeutic.

“However, what people don’t understand is that in South Dallas, many people are scrambling with two jobs just to pay the electric bill or to feed their kids tomorrow. They don’t have the luxury of having gardening as a hobby,” said Boa.

“It’s hard to preach nutrition when someone is hungry,” he added.

Determined not to give up, Boa identified the pressing need to establish a non-profit organization that could effectively and efficiently allocate funds to areas where individuals face significant challenges in accessing nutritious but low-priced food options.

In 2016, Boa met Tyrone Day, one of the clients of Miles of Freedom. Day was also incarcerated for a crime he did not commit and remained in prison for nearly 26 years. While in prison, Day learned horticulture.

“Tyrone became one of our co-founders,” said Boa. “We were able to create a job for him so he could earn a living and exercise the expertise he developed in prison. He managed the seedling farms.”

Boa would go on to meet Owen Lynch, who would also become one of the co-founders of Restorative Farms. In 2017, Boa and Lynch took over the empty lot identified to him by Miles and built a 16-by-20-foot greenhouse.

Boa’s goal was to “create a seedling farm that could be sustainable, not just environmentally, but also economically.”

The mission of Restorative Farms is to “foster a vibrant and viable community-based urban farm system in South Dallas … a community that most needs fresh food access and employment,” per its website.

By taking this proactive step in joining forces with others, Boa explained that Restorative Farms makes a meaningful contribution towards promoting food security and improving the well-being of communities affected by this issue.

“You have to feel like you are doing something in this world rather than just feeding yourself,” said Boa.

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