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Bonton Farms' Sweat Equity Chipping Away At South Dallas Food Desert

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DALLAS (CBS11) - Seeds, some say, are a metaphor for hope.

So when Daron Babcock planted a garden next to his South Dallas home three years ago, he called it an 'act of defiance'.

"I just knew that it was wrong that we have communities of people that don't have access to food, and they're sick and dying at a rate double that of those that do," said Babcock.

He wanted to give his Bonton neighbors access to fresh vegetables. Community members could pay for the produce--or work to help grow it.

Either way, it was a hit.

Soon, an alley was turned into a chicken run with hens providing fresh eggs.  Tilapia was raised in tanks. The corner garden expanded onto nearby vacant lots and in May 2015, Bonton Farms was born.

"I think what people see is when something works, people get behind it, and when people get behind it, it grows," said Babcock.

In March, 18 extra acres donated by a South Dallas concrete company, Collins Concrete, added to their efforts to chip away at the neighborhood food desert.

"Here you see the vegetable garden," said Babcock, gesturing to healthy looking tomatoes, peppers and corn plants. "Next month, we will see 500 egg laying hens."

Already, he says the effort has outpaced his ability to dream—so he'll just keep working. The farm has already produced more than 20,000 pounds of fresh food in its first year.

"We're going to grow a lot of food, and create a lot of jobs and help change the city," said Babcock.

Because, you see, they're also looking to grow people.

"As important as growing food, we're walking with folks who show up and they don't see a light at the end of the tunnel that isn't a train," says Babcock, "and so we try to work with them to say `this is for you, there is opportunity—and let's do it together."

Patrick Wright is busy pulling weeds from around the new plants and decides to pick a pepper as he works.

"It's a grilling pepper," Wright gushes with a laugh, "I don't have to grill mine. I can eat them right out of the ground."

Wright knows there are opportunities to be plucked as the urban farm grows. He helps manage the farm.

"I think it's extraordinary," said Wright. "And I think it's something that's needed: it's like a light for the neighborhood."

Babcock believes Dallas city leaders who recently voted to pay millions to get a grocery store in an underserved area have good intentions. But, he would rather see the city invest in the people.

"Why not invest where our residents get to own the stores? And our residents get to share in the profits? And the money begins to stay in South Dallas, instead of going to some corporate office in another state, in another city, or potentially another country," said Babcock.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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