A college president's decision to trade football for farming transformed a Dallas community in a way that touchdowns never could.

John Gifford
September 03, 2019
Sebron Snyder

This college president did not shy away from the problem of food insecurity. Being fed up with the fact that many people in his community were having difficulty being fed, he took action. Here are the details of how the switch from football to farming changed this community's future.

The Situation

When Michael Sorrell became president of Paul Quinn College in 2007, the part of town surrounding the school was a federally recognized food desert, 6 miles from the nearest supermarket. Of the myriad challenges facing this South Dallas neighborhood, food insecurity was at the top of the list. But he believed the college could—and should—change that. "I just thought it was wrong," Sorrell said. "In one of the wealthiest ­cities in this country, people 10 minutes from downtown should not be forced to grocery shop at convenience stores." When a local philanthropist posed the idea of a community vegetable garden to Sorrell over lunch—and offered funding—he ­accepted, with plans to make a ­dramatic statement.

What He Did

Sorrell terminated the school's football program (despite opposition) and erected raised beds on the field. "We have 140-something acres of land, but I said let's put the garden on the football field," Sorrell said. "This was a way of saying, we believe in a different field of dreams. Our goal isn't simply to influence higher education. It's to influence society." Named WE Over Me Farm, the garden has since grown into a 4-acre organic farm with chickens, honeybees, fruit trees, a greenhouse and an aquaponics system.

Related: The Importance of Bees to Our Food Supply

Why It's Cool

Under the guidance of a farm director, students manage the operation as part of a work-study program. And this former football field has produced approximately 60,000 pounds of food to date. Ten percent of the farm's bounty is sold, at cost, to faculty, staff and area residents at the school's weekly farmers' market. At least 10% is donated to food banks in the area. The remainder is sold to restaurants and their largest customer: Legends Hospitality, which, somewhat ironically, serves AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Another victory in Sorrell's eyes? A few years ago, the city—inspired by the college's efforts—approved a grocery store built across the street from campus, officially ending the community's designation as a food desert. "We've sent more kale to the NFL than we ever did football players." Michael Sorrell, WE Over Me Farm

Bottom Line

Michael Sorrell was serious about feeding his community, and it resulted in benefits to peoples health, environmental health and economic health. These pillars of sustainability helped transform his community for the better. See other stories of people going above and beyond at Food with Purpose.

EatingWell, September 2019
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