A Garden Built in a Food Desert

A Southwest Airlines community service day helps build a vegetable garden in a food desert.

April 15, 2015

A Garden Built in a Food Desert

Southwest Airlines partnered with a Dallas based nonprofit, Behind Every Door, to build a vegetable and flower garden for a low-income neighborhood.

Volunteers in royal blue shirts with shovels and wheelbarrows in tow scattered across the lawn are a sign of change and improvement at Village Oaks Apartment Complex in South Dallas, Tuesday afternoon. Twenty-two Southwest Airlines directors along with the Behind Every Door organization constructed a garden to provide fruits and vegetables for the community, a beautiful site amid abandoned and ignored apartment buildings.

The teams constructed eight raised beds and one flower box. Behind Every Door is a non-profit organization empowering and educating children and adults of greater opportunities outside the Village Oaks Community. The children of the Behind Every Door “Kids Club” will plant and harvest their fruits and vegetables into the summer, each proudly eating a salad of vegetables they harvested.

Davis Ridley (far left) and Will (front, far right) of Behind Every Door stand with the Southwest Airlines volunteers.

Davis Ridley (far left) and Will Dowell (front, far right) of Behind Every Door stand with the Southwest Airlines volunteers.

Will Dowell, Executive Director of Behind Every Door, chose organic fruits and vegetables to be planted in the freshly built garden. Healthy options are currently unavailable to many of the families who are also reliant on Food Stamps. Dowell chose organic seeds over seeds tainted by chemicals because he believes the people of the Village Oaks community deserve the best quality just as he believes his family does.

Southwest Airlines partnered with Behind Every Door to build a garden of fresh produce in a food desert. As a food desert, the low-income neighborhood of Village Oaks has limited access to fruits and vegetables. Southwest Airlines, with a passion to serve and ignite change, provided the funds and manual labor to jumpstart improvement in this community.

Southwest Airlines Ground Operations Directors from all over the country willingly and eagerly spent their day at the community center to encourage a better lifestyle for the South Dallas neighborhood. Directors from Albuquerque, Chicago and Baltimore chose to partake. The corporation also donated $1000 to Behind Every Door to cover the supplies needed for the project.

“Behind Every Door and Southwest Airlines partnered for the sole purpose to create an opportunity for the people to grow healthy food, spend time together, and enjoy natural beauty in their community,” said Dowell.

Rachel Conner, director of Ground Operations at Southwest Airlines, said, “service is the culture of the corporation.” The Vice President of Ground Operations was eagerly searching for a place to volunteer in Dallas, and Village Oaks was in need. Conner explained that Southwest Airlines has an entire program devoted to community and communications. Each department chooses a cause, and everyone’s passions are touched. Once a month the directors spend a day helping others as part of Southwest Airlines’ core values. The corporation has impacted the Ronald McDonald Home, shelters and now Behind Every Door and their “Kids Club.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, residents of food deserts only have access to convenience stores and fast food restaurants that do not serve healthy and affordable options, and the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away. Village Oaks is described as “low-income” and “low-access” according to the standards of the USDA. Village Oaks not only has little access to fresh, healthy and affordable food but is also filled with “candy houses” that sell processed foods to the children.

Currently, children of this community flock to “candy houses” after school to buy sodas, chips and candy. Tenants run makeshift convenience stores out of their apartments to make money. Although illegal, they are known to provide snacks to the neighborhood, which has limited ability to travel off site to certified stores. At least two “candy houses” are run out of the apartments, yet “Kids Club” encourages and provides healthier options for the children to eat after school. With the new garden, the organization’s resources will expand.

Food trucks like “Randy’s” also take advantage of the community when the residents buy their monthly groceries. The truck takes Food Stamps as a form of payment but illegally encourages them to take more than they can afford and therefore becoming cyclically in debt with the company. Each month the customers are unable to pay what they owe.

Ridley explained that Behind Every Door is pursuing a partnership with Pepsi’s Food for Good Campaign. Pepsi provides fresh produce at a price with which other food trucks like Randy’s cannot compete. Once Pepsi is approved to accept Food Stamps, another healthy food option will be available to the Village Oaks community.