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Joan Davidow: Joys Of Urban Farming

Summertime, fresh air, blue skies can bring to mind healthy fresh produce, though you don’t expect it to happen near downtown Dallas! Commentator Joan Davidow shares her new weekly farming experiences and looks at how we could all take steps to a better life right in our own back yard. 

Imagine walking into the middle of a watermelon:  a pinky red floor with black seeds and walls striped in wavy green lines centered by an old wooden table filled with basil, mint, and greens.  Welcome to Farm Market 1410 and Tom the Spiceman in his vintage storefront in near East Dallas.  He’s a key player on this creative corner with Urbano Café, Jimmy’s Market, the community garden, and Bows & Arrows floral shop.  An aficionado walk-in crowd and Dallas’ new elite chefs call on Tom Spicer daily for his fancy salad greens, exotic mushrooms, and squash blossoms.

The almost eponymous Spiceman got farming in his blood as the great grandson of the Rhode Island Vanderbilts’ lead gardener and the brother of New Orleans’ queen bee chef Susan Spicer.  This guy started stacking apples in Dallas’ first natural foods market 25 years ago.  Seven years ago he opened the storefront, and three years later struck a deal with the owner of the quarter acre empty lot and began plotting his well-ordered, raised beds; enriching the soil; and planting greens and herbs.   This former vacant lot bearing the burnt husk of a crack house now sits as a little piece of Tuscany, all built with his dirt-cracked hands.  

As probably the only person collecting compost on her downtown balcony, of course I’d find an organic farmer in the city.  I farm there weekly in my gimme cap and rubber boots, guided by Spicer to cut sunflower sprouts, chop Swiss chard, snip nasturtium buds, pinch radish pods, throw purple vetch seeds for the ladybugs, pull beet greens, and weed.  I learned Spicer cares deeply about how we eat and works hard to clean up the ground where he grows our food.  He wants his backyard farm movement to spread and uses natural materials to cleanse the soil. 

Agribusiness could, if they just would, produce better food and clean up our farmable land.

Just like we did with pink slime, we must break our dependence on industrialized, tasteless, chemical-ridden, preservative-laden, obesity-causing, carcinogenic/pathogenic mass-produced food served up by school cafeterias and chain restaurants, grocers and drive-in fast foodaries.  

I remember helping my daddy plant tomatoes in our little Victory garden and having fruit trees in our backyard.  Last winter, my sister’s tree fed our whole family luscious grapefruits.  We each can’t duplicate all the Spiceman can do with three decades of knowledge and experience nourishing the earth.  What if more of us achieved one sustainable effort: dumped compost, planted a fruit tree, or grew tomato plants?   We’d taste a real tomato or plump peach, homegrown spinach or kale.  We’d raise our awareness and raise the bar for the food we demand from the mass producers.

Joan Davidow is a Master of Liberal Studies professor of contemporary art at SMU.

Views expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. KERA airs commentaries to reflect multiple perspectives and voices in the community. We welcome your feedback at