Renovated facility to be hub for AgriLife Extension urban health, wellness, agriculture education in Dallas County

  • Writer: Adam Russell, 903-834-6191, adam.russell@ag.tamu.edu
  • Contact: Richard Davis, 214-904-3050, richard.davis@ag.tamu.edu
  • Stephen Hudkins, 214-904-3050, stephen.hudkins@ag.tamu.edu

GARLAND – Collaboration with Dallas County commissioners at a renovated road and bridge office site has created a demonstration space where the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will reach urban residents.

An Earth-Kind garden outside the renovated Rowlett Road location includes berry varieties, ornamental flowers for pollinators, an orchard and table- and wine-grape vineyard. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Adam Russell)

Richard Davis, AgriLife Extension director in Dallas County, said the renovated 12-acre facility increases the agency’s presence and ability to fight food deserts and above-average rates of chronic health problems, including diabetes and obesity, in a historically underserved urban area.

Davis said educational events featuring raised bed gardens, an instructional kitchen and other installations at the Rowlett Road facility will enable communities in the 26 cities within Dallas County to improve their quality of life.

“There’s incredible potential here,” he said. “With about 2.6 million urban residents in Dallas County, there is plenty of opportunity for education when it comes to home gardening, health and wellness and youth development. We expect this facility to be a satellite hub for initiatives like Path to the Plate, Healthy Texas and other AgriLife Extension efforts.”

The 10,461 square-foot building, which once housed equipment for road and bridge maintenance and county vehicles, was renovated into office and event space for multiple county offices.

A 4-H awards banquet was the first official Extension meeting at the new facility since it opened, Davis said.

Dallas County District 1 Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel was looking for ways the facility might serve her constituency and county residents, Davis said. To that end, she consulted with AgriLife Extension during construction and installed features such as a working kitchen with cameras and a projection screen to allow program specialists to conduct healthy cooking training programs.

She also provided spaces for AgriLife Extension personnel to have satellite offices in the facility alongside other county departments.

Raised garden beds, Earth-Kind flower and fruit gardens, fruit trees and a table- and wine- grape vineyard have already been installed on the facility’s grounds. Most aspects of the gardens, from the raised bed boxes to mulch, plants, drip irrigation and other materials were donated by the county, industry and other organizations and installed by Dallas County Master Gardeners under the direction and supervision of AgriLife Extension horticulture agent Stephen Hudkins and horticulture assistant Jeff Raska.

Davis said a backyard poultry project will sit on acreage adjacent to the raised bed gardens. A large open barn, which was used to store heavy equipment and materials, could be utilized as an outside venue for events or a farmers’ market.

A rusty, survivor 1952 Farmall Model H tractor was donated to AgriLife Extension for 4-H youth to restore under the guidance of FFA and show at local tractor shows and events, Davis said.

“AgriLife Extension is the biggest collaborator with Dr. Daniel to this point,” he said. “She realizes the space’s value and understands the value of our programs to her constituents, the county and communities at large. We want to make the biggest impact possible, and that is directly in line with her vision for the space.”

Stephen Hudkins, AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Dallas County, shows off some remaining pepper plants in raised bed garden containers at the Rowlett Road facility. The site will host educational urban horticulture programs for area residents. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo by Adam Russell)

Hudkins said the facility’s presence in South Dallas, which has been identified as a food desert and socioeconomically disadvantaged, and whose residents experience above-average incidence of unemployment, chronic diseases related diet and fewer economic opportunities, could transform lives and communities.

“This facility is filled with teaching and outreach opportunity,” Hudkins said. “Reaching children to educate them about the benefits of healthy eating and teaching them farm to plate concepts that will stick with them throughout their lives could bring about a huge change in this area. Being here also gives us the ability to reach individuals who are interested in learning horticulture not only as a healthy lifestyle choice but as an entrepreneurial opportunity.”

Rowlett Road remains in a conceptual phase, Hudkins said, as AgriLife Extension, Dallas County officials, local non-profit organizations, philanthropists and other groups engage with community members regarding their needs and desires and the collective’s ability to deliver concerted resources, time and effort.

Davis said the excitement Daniel has expressed and freedom she has granted AgriLife Extension with the facility has created an environment for success they believe will resonate within Dallas County and beyond.

“This facility creates opportunities for outreach and education, and the knowledge that AgriLife Extension provides is knowledge that can help residents face the challenges in their communities,” Davis said. “The relationship we have built with the Dallas County commissioners court is a tremendous collaboration. And Commissioner Daniel is convinced that when it comes to providing education around health and wellness, sustainable agriculture, the environment and youth development, AgriLife Extension is the key.”

 

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