The ‘Plant Daddy of Dallas’ Is Paving the Way for Clean, Profitable Urban Agriculture


DALLAS—The very Very first factor Michael Bell remembers in life Helps his grandmcompletely different in her vegetable backyard. 

He would develop inexperienced beans and tomatoes aprolongedside her Inside their small metropolis of Bowie, Texas. By way of the winter they protected seedlings using pfinalic bottles they gatright hered from frifinishs.

Most households raised cattle; Bell’s did too. And wright hereas Lots of his friends dreamed of roping and driving on the ranch, Bell most properly-appreciated the crops. 

Thirty yrs later, in a sprawling North Texas metropolis, Bell has joined the movement to convey farms to huge cities. Some people name him the “plant daddy of Dallas,” or “the salad man.” 

“I’ve to be The rationale why Walmart can’t promote produce in Dallas,” he said between crop rows and photo voltaic tarps at Dallas Half Acre Farm, which sits on a residential road in a rural space Inside the southeastern An factor of The metropolis. 

Michael Bell at Dallas Half Acre, his metropolis farm constructed completely by hand. Credit rating: Autumn Jones

Bell harvests lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, spring onions, carrots and completely different seasonal greens. He additionally raises hen and collects eggs from quails on a wild plot strewn with devices And a lot of of overdevelopn grass. Nestled On The prime of a road behind bushes and timber, tright here are 4 huge inexperiencedhomakes use of shaped like tunnels, a shed and a hen and quail coop.

Throughout the nation, metropolis farmers like Bell hope To fulfill the challenges of local climate change, public well being and meals insafety by reclaiming unused metropolis spaces to develop healthful, native, pure produce. 

Urban farming, Also referred to as market backyarding or regenerative farming, is the apply of rising meals in metropolis spaces for extremely populated communities. It is one potential reply to elevated meals insafety As a Outcome of of local climate impacts.

Texas scores 4th in meals insafety Inside the nation and local climate change is predicted to exacerbate the state of affairs in coming yrs. 

While The Latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that local climate change is a menace to meals and dietary safety, Joe Masabni, the extension vegetable specialist On the Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas Center, think abouts meals manufacturing Isn’t in a disaster simply but. He does, although, acknowledge that some neighborhoods are already meals deserts,  wright hereas completely differents are house To huge Food market chains however no regionally developn, pure meals. 

“Tright here are A lot Of factors contrihowevering to that,” Masabni said. “Lack of agricultural land As a Outcome of of metropolisization, modifications in shopper type, people Eager to buy pure and local climate change.”

The Dallas Center, located in a futuristic, glass-walled constructing in North Dallas proper subsequent to the College of Texas at Dallas, focmakes use of on sustainable improvements in metropolis agriculture. It is Definitely one of 13 facilities in Texas that conduct evaluation, public outreach packages and education for current and future agriculturalists. 

Joe Masabni has been working with Texas A&M agriculture for over 20 yrs. Photograph courtesy of Joe Masabni

Masabni focmakes use of on education for vegetable developers. He said The middle tailors its evaluation round widespread factors metropolis farmers face. 

“As quickly as we now have the options, we Arrange packages, conventions or area days To go to with developers and educate them on our evaluation,” he said. The Dallas Center’s final convention, on Dec. 6, was Aimed in the direction of startner and professional developers.

Tomatoes rising on a vine in Definitely one of Michael Bell’s plant beds. Bell makes use of tomatoes to shade completely different crops, like lettuce. Credit rating: Autumn Jones

Dallas Half Acre Farm retains true to its identify: Bell operates on Decrease than half an acre. “I didn’t know that a profession wAs a Outcome of tright here,” Bell said of rising pure produce Inside The metropolis.

Bell, 43, teaches factorary school bodily education full-time. He found the apply of metropolis pure farming through YouTube. As quickly as he was hooked, Bell did as a lot evaluation on The primeic as he might.

“As quickly as I acquired involved in it, And that i started asking people about meals and listening to people complain about meals, it simply clicked,” he said. “I can develop healthful meals. Every buyer that I get simply strengthens my resolve To maintain going.”

Beverly Lanier, a resident from Rowlett, Texas, has been buying for from Bell for over a decade. She said She will type An complete distinction between produce from Bell and the Food market. 

Lanier rereferred to as a second she shared Collectively with her household wright hereas consuming Bell’s carrots. “They have been scrumptious,” she said. “The household And that i have been all like, What’s that this type? You will Have The power to’t discover carrots that type like this!”

“Being Inside the metropolis space, We’re uncovered to chemical compounds All through the place. Why would We Want to ingest any extra?”

Michael Bell remakes use of pfinalic bottles for drip irrigation. Credit rating: Autumn Jones

Bell prides himself on his strategy to rising crops. 

Everyfactor at Half Acre Farm Is accomplished by hand. The soil Isn’t tilled, To save tons of dietary vitamins, and fertilizer Isn’t used, one factor he said makes his crops type greater than common. 

Bell hand seeds smaller crops and transcrops huger ones. Drip irrigation slowly waters the crops, each conserving The quantity used and giving the crops Precisely the proper quantity of water to thrive. The water pump runs off of photo voltaic power beset off Tright here’s not a Electricity On the farm.

“I think about that my farm is including extra to the environment than taking away, which is what We ought to almethods all aspire to do,” he said.

Bell think abouts anyone can have an eco-frifinishly metropolis farm. He travels Everywright here Inside the Dallas-Fort Worth space talking at conventions, schools and Highschools To level out his strategies. He additionally provides particular person mentorship and internships to aspiring metropolis farmers. 

“If I feed 100 households in my subdivision every week for a yr, I Could make $120,000,” Bell said. “Immediately tright here are presently 600 households in my subdivision.

“People don’t understand how a lot money You will Have The power to additionally make from doing this, in Solely a yard,” he said.

His objective is To level out completely differents The biggest Method To start out their farms wright hereas additionally displaying the revenueability of the apply, and the message is spreading.

Dirk Tanner Is merely Definitely one of many farmers Who’ve reached out to Bell for startners’ steerage. 

Tanner, 29, additionally found The althought of small-scale farming through YouTube. When he found it was potential to make A huge income with Barely land, Tanner said the idea astounded him.

Dirk Tanner Collectively with his spouse Ashleigh. Photograph courtesy of Dirk Tanner

“I simply On A daily basis think aboutd farms being huge,” he said. 

Tanner, who started his metropolis farming journey in Denver, now has a farm in Greenbrier, Arkansas. He follows Lots of Bell’s methods Similar to no tilling and emphasizing constructing soil life To current extremely nutritious greens.

The Tanner’s land in Greenbrier, Arkansas. Photograph courtesy of Dirk Tanner

Tanner said he strives to have A numerous regenerative farm. Collectively with greens, he promotes pasture-raised eggs from hens Ate up pure grain.

“It is In all probability the most fulfilling factor when we go to the farmers’ market every week. People Get back and say, not only was it One of the biggest salad they’ve ever eaten, however that it finaled so prolonged,” Tanner said. 

Lettuce On the Tanners’ farm. Photograph courtesy of Dirk Tanner

“I do know They’re consuming a product That is extremely clear and builds soil life,” he said. “We’re not depleting life. We are regenerating the land, which helps the environment and makes a extra healthful group.”

Tanner says metropolis farms are important for communities beset off Tright here is A necessity for native meals currents. “[The U.S. is] delivery Almost all of our lettuce from California and Arizona, using fossil fuels to get them right here,” he said. 

“As extra people start to metropolis farm We will take again our meals current,” Tanner said.

“Food builds group,” he said. “Growing meals builds group and empowers people. I really feel metropolis farms Aren’t only very importantly important to our meals safety But in addition very important to human connection and human life.”

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Masabni said he Does not assume it Is important for people To Wind up to be farmers simply To understand The advantages of consuming pure meals.

“Not everyone likes to be outdoors, sweat and work with the mosquitoes,” he said. “Some people Have to eat greens, however they don’t Have to or know The biggest Method to develop them. Which will be An monumental An factor of the inhabitants.”

Masabni additionally warned about potential well being considerations when buying for produce from small-scale developers, typinamey Usually acknowledged as hobbyists, that promote produce at farmers’ markets. “I really feel That Is usually a weak spot Which have to be addressed,” he said. “Simply Beset off it is regionally produced doesn’t imply that it is clear, or that it doesn’t have E. coli.” 

Responding to mealsborne sickness Inside the nation, the Food and Drug Administration enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, crconsuming guidelines for farmers To sprime contamination. Smaller farms like Bell’s are exempt from this act till promoteing to eating places or shops.

Dallas Half Acre Farm in Dallas, Texas. Credit rating: Autumn Jones

For Bell, metropolis farming Isn’t Solely a enterprise enterprise, however A private journey.

When his grandmcompletely different handed away, leaving him an inheritance of $7,500, Bell decided To level out their shared love for crops Right into a revenueable pure farm.

He purchased what turned Dallas Half Acre Farm on his birthday in April 2016, paying The identical Sum Of money that he had inherited from his grandmcompletely different. 

“That’s destiny,” he said.

He Desires to level out as Many people as potential about metropolis farming. It isn’t straightforward work, he said,  however with some land, steerage and motivation, he think abouts anyone Is in a place to being self-enough. Finally, Bell hopes to see farms in every neighborhood, with each particular person and group Succesful of current for themselves. 

He think abouts that regenerative farms Should be included in metropolis infrastructure and that education should start with youthful generations, his set off for Chatting with many Highschool college students. “I’m hoping simply to get one baby out of the 100 I’ll converse to,” he said.

While not everyone Could Even be suited to regenerative farming, It is a apply extra metropolis communities are adopting To deal with meals considerations. 

Tright here are tons Of numerous methods to be involved in group farms, Similar to volunteering, group outreach and dedicating time to the rising course of. Texas A&M’s AgriLife additionally works with shelters across Texas To current current, healthful meals to people in need.

Regardless of small-scale farmers’ challenges, Bell said he Could not think about doing Somefactor. 

“Whilst quickly as I gained the lottery right now, I might nonetheless come to my farm Very first factor tomorrow morning.”

Autumn Jones


Autumn Jones is a multimedia journalist and fellow at Inside Climate Information. She is a senior On the College of Texas at Austin wright here she research Journalism and Science Communications. Aside from writing, Jones is a photojournalist and has labored as A contract photographer for over seven yrs. She has a ardour for local climate change, environmental simplyice, space and public well being. She has acquired awards for her journalistic work Starting from the Dallas Morning Information to the Emmys. When she isn’t overlaying science, she Could be found serving As a Outcome of the communications contractor for the Carrollton-Farmers Department Instructional Foundation non-revenue in her house metropolis of Dallas.