Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tours an Organic Garden at a Historically Black College
As the Associate Administrator for the Risk Management Agency, I visit our offices in all parts of the country. My recent trip to Dallas, Texas, provided an exciting look at a truly amazing agricultural program and astonishing new ideas at Paul Quinn College.
While trying to find a bite to eat before my morning meeting at the college, I saw firsthand what can only be described as a food desert in the Highland Hills community of southern Dallas. The only food source option near the campus was a gas station with a tiny convenience store, whose sparsely stocked shelves contained only aged, processed, sugary goods. Needless to say, I had some questions for Paul Quinn College President Michael J. Sorrell when I arrived.
It turns out that the college is situated between several food deserts and is the bright beacon for the area. This 1890’s Historically Black College, with a thriving agriculture program, is home to a most beautiful organic garden located in the college’s former football stadium. Paul Quinn College’s energetic new president and his leadership team have brought the college into a new renaissance with a reinvigorated admissions policy, establishment of the Presidential Scholars Program, consecutive years of six- and seven-figure year-end budget surpluses, modernization of all institutional operations, and of course, the gorgeous and delicious organic garden.
Once the college cut its football program in 2007, the sports field became wasted space. President Sorrell directed that it be converted into a space to grow 26 different crops, including strawberries, onions, sweet potatoes, flat leaf parsley, blackberries, beans, melons and even bee hives. The bleachers and press box will soon come down in order to make room for a greenhouse and a coop for free-range chickens. Roughly 40 percent of the student body participates in the Social Entrepreneurship Program, which includes courses of study like Biology I and working on the organic garden. The former football field has been re-named, “The Food for Good Farm at Paul Quinn College,” indicating the effort’s larger purpose: a minimum of 10 percent of the harvest each year goes to charity, some makes its way to the college cafeteria, and any remaining food is sold to a surrounding community with few other healthy food options. Eventually, the college plans to run a small local grocery store. I know the work involved in growing any crop, let alone an organic food garden, so I was particularly impressed. I was even more impressed by the idea of turning wasted space into something wonderful.
Students in the Social Entrepreneurship program may use what they learn to establish their own organic gardens at home, and others will go on to manage large farms meant to feed a nation and the exploding world population beyond. USDA and the agriculture industry is always looking for new employees with backgrounds in agriculture, and people with experience in innovative programs like that at Paul Quinn College promise to be competitive candidates. The motto at Paul Quinn College is “Greatness… One Step at a Time.” President Michael Sorrell has taken a giant step, and this step is growing many kinds of opportunities at Paul Quinn College.
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