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Evie offers alternatives to grow fresh food at home

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 5/19/2017, 7:56 p.m.
Food deserts exist across the city, especially in the Southern Sector. Half of South Dallas is labeled a food desert, ...
A window displays shows the steps to producing a small garden within a confined space. Denisha McKnight

The Dallas Examiner

Food deserts exist across the city, especially in the Southern Sector. Half of South Dallas is labeled a food desert, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture 2011 report.

With very few stores or healthy options and poor store quality in the Black community, local African Americans are in need of fresh food in close proximity of their neighborhood. Many community groups such as For Oak Cliff and the McCarty & Maathai Community Garden are creating small gardens within Southern Dallas, but a local program was designed to show residents that they could combat some nutrition issues in their own homes.

Southern Methodist University’s greenhouse RV, “Evie,” is a local initiative being used to tackle food insecurities.

Evie is an educational initiative by SMU students and Fair Park Urban Farms that is used as a way to study how mobile greenhouses work and how it can alleviate food deserts in the city through four different categories: crisis relief, teaching and community gardens, urban co-op, and sustainable business.

“We’re trying to study and see how it can be applicable globally and locally,” said Corrie Harris, program manager for the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity.

In Dallas County, the food insecurity rate is 19.5 percent, which results in several convenience stores in those areas that provide processed foods and contribute to health issues, according to a Hunt Institute report. Although it was just launched in March, Evie could provide another solution to this food desert problem.

The converted Shasta camping trailer contains various fruits and vegetable plants using low-cost and creative ways that people could use in their homes, such as homemade pots made from soda bottles and repurposed items, potted soil and grounded coconuts, and aquaponics and hydroponics – using water and fish to cultivate plants – all in one small space.

The Hunt Institute states that mobile greenhouses would allow communities to “maximize space, grow in a variety of hostile environments, and potentially take their food source and community building activity with them in the case of relocation.”

Harris said SMU, along with Fair Park, plans to bring this innovative idea to food deserts throughout the city and collaborate with local community gardens and schools in those areas.

“It needs to not work by itself,” she asserted. “It needs to work in a network of other people who are working on this problem. It needs to be a compliment to community gardens. It needs to be a compliment to school gardens. It needs to be educational and a job creator. All these different areas have to be addressed for food deserts to be eliminated in our lifetime.”

By traveling throughout the community, Harris says people could spread the word and provide solutions for food security.

“I hope people copy it,” she said. “I hope people run with it, change it, improve it and share that information with us because, and we’re going to do the same.”

For residents who would like to grow fresh food in their homes, Harris advised that they should look into purchasing affordable vertical gardening planters that won’t take up space and could be placed on patios or use inexpensive household items, such as spoons and coffee mugs, as gardening tools and pots.

“You can use it for your own personal consumption, and it can have up to 40 square feet of growing space,” she said. “You don’t need all the fancy gardening tools. You can use something as simple as a spoon to scoop out your soil [and] reusable bags to transport your gardening equipment from the store to your home.”

The food sustainability issues has not been solved yet, but studies are still being conducted to in order to find more solutions.

“We don’t have all the solutions yet, but we are working towards it and need the help of our community to find this [solution],” Harris said.