Bonton Farms in South Dallas is evolving to serve its community, by serving meals.
In early November, Bonton Farms will open a market and cafe, in a neighborhood that's long struggled with access to fresh, healthy food. The hope is to inspire residents to make lifelong changes.
Farm to table view
In true Bonton Farms fashion, nearly everything planted around the cafe's patio will be edible.
The herbs and veggies going into the soil are there by design. Once the "Market at Bonton Farms" opens, there will be indoor and outdoor seating. And Executive Director Daron Babcock wants customers to have a front row, farm-to-table view.
"I want people to be out here watching and eating, and have the chefs come out and pick the herbs that are going to be seasoning for their food," he said.
Babcock started Bonton Farms in 2012. It began as a little garden attached to his house, and grew into a large working farm. He hires a lot of people with criminal histories and has made educating staff and visitors about the benefits of nutrition the focal point.
The next step
He says the market, which will sell fresh food as well as serve breakfast and lunch, is the next step for the neighborhood, which has faced many challenges.
"We have more than double the rate of cancer and stroke and diabetes and heart disease and childhood obesity than the county we're in," Babcock said. "By the time I die, I hope that you can look at Bonton and say statistically we're equal to Dallas County as opposed to being horrifically worse."
The woman who will manage the market shares his passion. For years, Kim High injected insulin three times a day; desperate to control her diabetes.
"Got sicker, sicker and sicker," High said. "So something said, 'You know what girl? What about that guy over in Bonton you said you were going to go see. You should go see him!'"
So High introduced herself to Babcock, and he taught her how to plant vegetables and invited her to bible study. Before long, she was tapped to manage Bonton's 40-acre farm. And much to her delight, she was eventually able to stop using insulin.
"It was just my eating habits were really bad. I started eating better from fresh, organic foods and just knowing what to put in my body," she said.
A place to eat, learn and gather
The Market at Bonton Farms will sell and prepare fresh, healthy food at a reasonable price. It will also offer cooking classes, diabetes checks and yoga sessions. And it will be one of the few places in the Bonton neighborhood where people can gather and eat. High says folks who live nearby are looking forward to it.
"They're so excited that they actually have something in their neighborhood where they can come and sit down and have a meal with their family or with friends, you know? There's never been a place like that in Bonton where you can just come and have a meal," she said.
Eventually, Daron Babcock wants people to be able to grab fully prepared takeaway meals from the market that they can heat and eat at home, which will be a real time-saver for low-income families.
"When you live in poverty, you don't control your own schedule. So if you ever go to the DMV to get your license renewed, most of the social services designed to help people in poverty are like the DMV. You go and you wait for a half a day," Babcock said.
Changing the narrative
His hope is that the Market at Bonton Farms will flip the script for families in South Dallas. Bring health and wellness experts in. Prepare affordable meals on-site. Sell food that people can take home, cook and feel good about. And Babcock is determined to do it all without putting bars on the cafe windows.
"We meet with a lot of developers where politicians are encouraging or pressuring developers to invest down here, and you generally hear them say two things: the skilled labor force here is lacking, and it's not safe," he said. "We're going to prove them wrong."
The kitchen is ready, the furniture is in and the sign is up. The public will get its first taste in early November.