SMU professor, local agencies to launch new seedling farm at MLK, Jr. Community Center

In the ongoing effort to combat South Dallas’ food desert, a new source of low-cost plants for individual and community gardeners will launch with the grand opening of the new Seedling Farm at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center’s Freedom Garden on Tuesday, November 21.

DALLAS (SMU) --- In the ongoing effort to combat South Dallas’ food desert, a new source of low-cost plants for individual and community gardeners will launch with the grand opening of the new Seedling Farm at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center’s Freedom Garden on Tuesday, November 21 at 11:30 a.m. The center is at 2922 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Dallas (75215). The free public event will include presentations and family activities and provide information about the farm’s offerings.

The Seedling Farm is a collaborative effort by Owen Lynch, associate professor of  organizational communication at SMU Meadows School of the Arts and senior research fellow at SMU’s Hunt Institute for Humanity and Engineering, and numerous local Dallas urban farm organizations.

Owen Lynch
Owen Lynch

“A food desert is a community without close access to fresh, healthy foods at grocery stores or other retail outlets, and in South Dallas, many residents live at least a mile away from a grocery store,” says Lynch, who also serves as president of the nonprofit, urban farm consulting agency Get Healthy Dallas. “In fact, South Dallas is one of the largest food deserts in the country. While there have been positive results with the many new urban farming and gardening efforts in recent years, there is still work to be done. The Seedling Farm aims to overcome some of the barriers to successful local agricultural production and help boost garden yield in South Dallas. It helps everyone in the urban farm system, facilitating others to grow their businesses.”

The Seedling Farm will be open year-round and will provide a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetable plants at a nominal cost, along with professional in-person advice. Community members – both individuals and groups – can participate via four steps: “meet, select, grow and go.” Step one is to meet with Seedling Farm manager Tyrone Day, an urban farm expert with a horticulture degree and more than 20 years of experience. Step two is to select the best types of plants for the resident’s garden, with Day’s counsel. In step three, the selected seeds will be grown at the farm until they have matured into young seedlings ready for planting. In step four, the gardener picks up the plants at the MLK Center and raises them in his or her own garden. The resulting crop can be for the gardener’s personal use, or shared with friends or community centers.

The Seedling Farm’s goal is to produce 20,000 young plants each year.

Overcoming Barriers, Creating Impact

Access to fresh produce translates to healthier, more vibrant communities, says Lynch, but studies show that community gardens have high closure rates and are often not economically viable. Lynch has been researching urban food systems with a focus on how to remove barriers and create a viable farming system. He has worked closely with the Hunt Institute on the issue, because one focus of the institute is to research and pilot farming systems with the potential for aggregation to co-develop and encourage a sustainable food economy.

“Research shows that community gardens can achieve bigger gains if the community gardeners have access to local experts and seedlings to better manage their gardens,” says Lynch. “That is a big part of what the Seedling Farm is about: to encourage, support and – if needed – teach local residents how to get the most from their urban gardens. It also serves as a source of healthy, low-cost plants.”

Providing seedlings instead of seeds is an important factor. “The process of going from a seed to a seedling is the most vulnerable stage in a plant’s life,” says Seedling Farm manager Day. “At the farm, we raise them in controlled conditions with constant monitoring, and also prepare them for transportation to community and home gardens.” Jump-starting gardens by planting viable young seedlings, instead of seeds, means the plants are more likely to survive, mature faster and produce fruits or vegetables more quickly, says Day. “Gardeners can see more growth cycles per season, which means more product. All of that translates into a healthier community.” The seedlings are grown in an industrial hoop house – a simple greenhouse structure – funded by a grant from SMU Lyle School of Engineering’s Hart Center for Engineering Leadership.

Another expected benefit of the Seedling Farm is job training. With the support of Miles of Freedom, a nonprofit that helps previously incarcerated men and women gain employment and re-entry into society, Dr. Lynch and his partners are using the Seedling Farm to help identify and train community members to become future urban farmers. By increasing production and coordinating the capabilities of the local emerging agriculture system, the hope is the farm will not just seed gardens but have a multiplier effect, contributing to economic activity and well-being throughout the community.

Seedling Farm Opening Day Activities

The opening event will include presentations at 11:30 a.m. by Dr. Lynch, Tyrone Day, Pamela Jones, manager of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, and DeVincent Martin, a South Dallas native and master’s student in SMU Lyle School of Engineering doing research on urban farming, as well as a variety of family activities. Farmers from the State Fair of Texas Big Tex Urban Farms will be on hand to demonstrate how they grow produce in pallet-sized, portable, stackable boxes on the fairgrounds during the fair’s off-season. Tours of the hoop house will be offered, and attendees can take home a seedling for their own gardens.

Community Partners

The new Seedling Farm is a collaboration of multiple organizations. Partners include the MLK, Jr. Community Center, Big Tex Urban Farms, The State Fair of Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife,  and the Hunt Institute for Humanity and Engineering and Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, both at SMU Lyle School of Engineering. Community supporters include the Austin Street Center, Café Momentum, Connecting City to Farm, and Miles of Freedom. The local community garden network includes Behind Every Door – Village Oaks, Bonton Farms, Jubilee Park Community Center, Lincoln High School, Mill City Gardens, St. Philip’s School Garden, and Sunny South & Nella Roots.


For more information about the Seedling Farm, contact Dr. Owen Lynch at



Victoria Winkelman
SMU Meadows School of the Arts


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