When four men came up with the idea to assist the South Dallas community through agriculture, they never imagined the impact they would make. Brad Boa, Owen Lynch, Tyrone Day, and Doric Earle have set out to produce food in an environmentally sustainable way, generate job opportunities, and ensure that the community has access to food at an affordable price.
Brad Boa, one of the founders of Restorative Farms, has had an entrepreneurial mindset for most of his life and a love for agriculture, prompting him to purchase a small East Texas ranch after retiring in 2007. Boa began to direct his attention to Dallas’ food disparities and formulate a plan to reduce the adversities.
Co-founder Owen Lynch is an associate professor in Corporate Communication & Public Affairs (CCPA) at the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. Lynch has spent a large portion of time serving as a member of various Dallas food organizations that aim to provide affordable healthy foods.
Dallas-native and co-founder Tyrone Day grew up in the same area as the community-based farm. After studying horticulture at the Trinity Valley Community College in Atkins, Texas, Day has worked in this particular agricultural field for 20 years. Now, he’s the farm systems manager at the Hatcher Station training farm.
The fourth founder, Doric Earle, an associate professor at SMU for the Department of Corporate Communication, has committed to supporting and uplifting underserved communities and helping entrepreneurs through housing developments and agriculture.
Restorative Farms’ mission is to foster a vibrant and viable community-based urban farm system in South Dallas. Its land consists of two fields, the seedling farm at the MLK Freedom Garden and Hatcher Station Farm.
“We’re feeding people — at a price that they can afford — healthy foods, [for] the first time in this community in probably 60 years, and taking old land and converting it into a job creation,” said Lynch.
In November 2017, MLK Freedom Garden was established by Lynch, Boa, and Day to produce affordable seedlings for the South Dallas community and to start a feed system.
By December 2019, through Earle’s connections with the vice president of DART’s Government Relations, Michael Miles, the men were able to secure a long-term lease for Hatcher Station Farm, which is adjacent to the Hatcher DART station.
“We got a small grant of $29,000 from DART and the North Texas Council of Governments to see what we could do here,” Earle told The Dallas Express. “And their idea was, ‘Start one as a training farm, and maybe you can build four more somewhere along the DART line.'”
The men have done just that. In 2020 and 2021, they grew and distributed 34,567 starter plants to South Dallas farms and gardens, landed partnerships with major companies, and established “GroBoxes” filled with soil and seeds.
Those GroBoxes would become their “saving grace.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Restorative Farms had to think of a way to keep its business thriving. Lynch was able to test out the idea in his community, and after some of his friends purchased the boxes, the quartet knew it was a hit. They created an e-commerce website to allow people to select their plant choices and enabled a no-contact delivery process to set up the GroBoxes at people’s homes.
“We showed the community what [GroBoxes] could do, and we sold 300 of them in the first year, and that really saved our lives,” said Earle.
In addition to the boxes, COVID-19 also brought opportunities for more collaborations with other businesses. During the pandemic, several major companies looked for ways to give back to communities.
Restorative Farms partnered with Kosmos Energy in September 2020 to give veggie boxes to their employees. In October 2020, the farm and Tito’s Vodka initiated a National Food Desert GroBox Program. The farm also funded and partnered with Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, State Fair of Texas, and Big Tex Urban Farms in November 2020.
Everything the four accomplish is for the greater good of Dallas’ citizens and their wish to see growth in the community.
“We’re driven. I think we all wake up in the middle of the night like, ‘Why aren’t we doing more?'” said Boa.
The men, who come from different walks of life, have united to break new ground with innovative ideas. From teaching intern students the way of farming to hosting their first annual Restorative Farm Harvest Weekend and giving out 100 turkeys for Thanksgiving last November, their objective remains to help the city.
“When you think about it, you have a couple of PhDs, serial entrepreneurs, and volunteer managers. You can imagine we all have different ideas. But, it’s the normal birthing process of an entrepreneurial effort,” said Earle. As one can imagine, four men working together can become chaotic, but the team still manages to provide affordable produce, create income, and break the cycle of poverty.
Earle said that Restorative Farms strives to teach people how to farm, either showing them how to grow for themselves or how to make farming their career.
“So, it’s really a training farm and an experiment, but ideally, it’s a real production farm,” he explained.
The crew hopes to expand and branch out in ventures beyond the farm in the future.
“If we have done something right, we’ve done two things: one, we’ve worked with local nonprofits to expand what we’re doing here,” said Earle. “Maybe a little grocery store, maybe some offices and retail. But then, [two, we’ve] duplicated [the farm] as many places as we can. Maybe two or three more.”
To learn more about how you can assist Restorative Farms in their efforts to “Grow a better Dallas,” visit their website to donate or purchase a GroBox.