DALLAS - Drive through neighborhoods south of Interstate 30, and grocery stores are hard to find.

There used to be one on this corner here but they're gone, said Charlie Campbell, a long-time resident, as he drove his Dodge pick-up down Buckner Boulevard.

Grocery stores and access to fresh food are so rare in the southern half of the city, the U.S.D.A. labeled it a 'food desert' when it recently mapped the problem.

These areas include wide swaths of Oak Cliff, South Dallas and Pleasant Grove.

But gardens here are just as scarce.

Campbell isn't waiting on investors to build a new store. He's growing his own food and tends a community garden, while helping others do the same.

The thing that concerns me the most, is you hear people complaining about how high prices are but they don't do anything - like a garden, Campbell explained.

Garden plots at his church, Christian Stronghold, are free to anyone, but people are charged $25 per year for water.

Campbell said the community garden grew 1,000 pounds of fresh produce as it just completed its first full year.

Last month, gardeners harvested 393 pounds.

Right now, six community gardens exist between Oak Cliff, Pleasant Grove and South Dallas. Organizers hope to plant six more just like it very soon. It's part of a bigger project, giving people the opportunity to improve their own health.

Dr. Mark DeHaven spent the last decade studying disease in southern Dallas and what happens when residents rely on fast food and convenience markets.

Constantly people would be saying the same thing, even going back to 2002, DeHaven said. They'd say 'Dr. DeHaven, there is no fresh food in South Dallas.'

DeHaven's project, called 'GoodNews,' is also behind the gardens.

It's a long-term idea to reduce chronic disease, but in the short-term, the gardens are helping people cut calories. On average, he said, participants eat 400 fewer calories a day.

They've been able to lose weight anywhere over 18 months of two to five pounds, DeHaven said. Which is significant, considering that an average adult gains one pound a year by just aging.

Charlie Campbell said he wants these gardens to do more than just grow food.

I want to reach the point where we can sell it cheaper than the stores, Campbell said. And it's all organic. It don't get no healthier than that. [sic]

It doesn't get much cheaper either.

The city's southern half is no longer waiting on developers, but going it alone now by growing their own fresh food.

A little oasis in the middle of a big food desert.


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