By Karissa Condoianis
Announced in 2018, the million servings mission committed the State Fair of Texas and its signature program, Big Tex Urban Farms to grow and donate one million servings to the local community. In less than four years, the State Fair of Texas has made that goal a reality – donating 1,000,000 servings of fresh produce to the South Dallas community for our neighbors in need.
Big Tex Urban Farms has grown substantially since its humble beginnings in 2016. When it first started, it consisted of 100 raised planter boxes in a parking lot near the State Fair of Texas’ administration building, giving out food at a local farmers market on Fridays. Now, it encompasses the entire Errol McKoy Greenhouse on the State Fair of Texas Midway in Fair Park. It’s here where the Farms’ revolutionary mobile hydroponic agriculture systems, including a Nutrient Film Technique system (NFT), grow racks, and a gutter slab system, grow everything from arugula, cucumbers, kohlrabi, micro-greens, peppers, soy, tomatoes, and zucchini.
As part of the State Fair of Texas’ efforts to give back to South Dallas, all the food produced by Big Tex Urban Farms is donated to organizations serving the surrounding communities. Organizations including Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute at the Juanita J. Craft Community Center, Bonton Farms, CitySquare, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church, FJV Foundation, Jubilee Park Community Center, Oak Cliff Veggie Project, Parkland Hospital, POETIC, The Bridge, and TR Hoover Community Development Corporation collect and distribute the produce grown by Big Tex Urban Farms. Many of these neighborhoods are designated by the USDA as areas with limited access to fresh food. Food deserts are low-income areas with limited access to personal vehicles or public transit and no grocery stores within a mile.
Big Tex Urban Farms has also helped establish dozens of community gardens in the neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park like the garden at Oak Cliff Veggie Project, Cornerstone Baptist, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Another piece of the Farms’ educational programming is working with local culinary programs—donating produce and herbs—that teach job skills to folks from all walks of life.
The Big Tex Urban Farms team had to overcome several obstacles on the road to achieving one million servings donated. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide freeze in February 2021 provided plenty of setbacks. Nonetheless, Big Tex Urban Farms continued to plow forward. One million servings are just the tip of the iceberg – the State Fair plans to continue growing and investing in Big Tex Urban Farms as one of its year-round signature community programs.
As a nonprofit organization, your annual visit to the State Fair of Texas — our largest fundraiser of the year — helps fund Big Tex Urban Farms. For more information on the Farms and how to get involved, visit BigTex.com/BTUF. Be sure to visit the Errol McKoy Greenhouse on the State Fair of Texas Midway opening Friday, September 30 and running through Sunday, October 23.