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Saturday, September 24, 2022
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State Fair Fights Hunger


Basket of produce collected from local community garden. | Image by Cameron Prins

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The State Fair of Texas and its neighbors in South Dallas have not always had the most harmonious relationship. However, the last few years have seen a shift in the dynamics, with the Fair now donating tens of thousands of pounds of produce to South Dallas nonprofits and working with community leaders to help solve the shortage of fresh food in the area.

South Dallas falls under the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition of a “food desert.” This term is defined as an area with greater than 20% of the population living below the poverty line and more than one-third of residents living more than one mile from a major grocery store. These conditions lead to a lack of readily available fresh produce and healthy food options.

“As much as we need more grocery stores and options, I also think that there is a need to support local farms and gardens,” says Froswa’ Booker-Drew, the Fair’s director of community affairs and strategic alliances.

Booker-Drew began working with the Fair in 2016, the same year they started the Big Tex Urban Farm program. “When I started at that time, we really began focusing on listening to community needs,” she says.

That first year on the job, Booker-Drew helped turn 100 shipping pallets into raised plant beds. Since then, the Fair has invested almost two million dollars into the farming program.

In 2018, under the Director of Horticulture, Drew Demler, the Fair built a massive hydroponic addition to the Farm. This set-up allows the Farm to grow more produce faster, which means more food for their non-profit partners. By 2020, the hydroponic system helped Big Tex Farms produce approximately 26,000 pounds of fresh food.

Besides growing food for the community, Demler and the farm program are working to educate the community and help folks grow food for themselves. They have helped establish five community gardens across South Dallas, including the TR Hoover’s Learning Garden, which feeds 100 families a day.

During the fair Demler could be found at the “Innovations in Agriculture” exhibit, teaching fairgoers how to build their own growing systems and the importance of food sustainability.

“And I love to be able to answer their questions and be able to interact with them, so that’s what I like the best, the interaction with people,” Demler says. “I think it’s important for all of us to kind of take back control of our food system for not just our physical well-being but our mental state. I think that healthy people are happy people.”

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