DALLAS — Four prime acres, which used to sit unused behind Owenwood United Methodist Church in far east Dallas, are now an urban farm. In 2017, Owenwood became unsustainable as a church, but energy and ingenuity are molding it into a faith-based community center.
It is still part of the United Methodist Church, but now called Owenwood Farm and Neighbor Space. Josh Esparza, 28, campus pastor since 2018, said this is the first year the farm will produce crops on a large scale.
“We have two part-time farmers who work with us and the rest is volunteer,” Esparza said. “Every second Saturday we have volunteer days.”
Although the rows of produce growing behind the old church are the most obvious sign of what’s going on here, it’s not the only evidence of the church’s new mission.
Inside of what used to be the sanctuary there’s hammering, as a construction crew builds additional rooms for a multipurpose space. The pews have been removed, the crimson carpet taken up and a new composite floor installed. The space will be used for adult education classes, part of the efforts of Aspire, which provides preschool through career classes in the building.
The raised area where the pulpit used to be in the sanctuary is a stage where the performance art group Artstillery, and other groups will perform.
Another part of the sanctuary is home to Diapers, Etc. On the last Saturday of each month, families can pick up nappies and feminine hygiene products. Cars line up for the supplies, but Esparza wants to expand the experience. He’s partnered with McDonald’s to give away breakfast sandwiches on diaper day, so families will come in and get to know their neighbors.
Outside, on a porch, is a former soft drink refrigerator, still bearing a Coca-Cola logo, which is now The People’s Fridge. Open to all, it’s a place where neighbors can donate food and take what the need. “A community resource, provided by the people, for the people,” says a sign hanging on the side. On this day, the shelves hold some pasta salad, a couple of containers of yogurt, and peanut butter.
A church is still in residence here, albeit slightly different than the previous tenant. The White Rock Community Church, predominantly serving the LBGTQ community, according to Esparza, now meets here every Sunday. On Saturdays, Owenwood opens up a kitchen that remains from the former church for White Rock members. They prepare free meals for as many as 130 people each week.
The final pillar of Owenwood’s new identity is Hope Supply, which operates from an outbuilding near the farm field. Hope’s main mission is to supply diapers for scores of non-profits across north Texas, but here Hope Supply runs a thrift shop, providing free clothing for both adults and children.
All of this is congruent with innovations at White Rock United Methodist Church a couple of miles away, of which Owenwood is a satellite. A decade ago White Rock UMC, faced with a stagnant membership, started reinventing itself by establishing a community garden, expanding pre-school education and providing low cost space for small businesses in its unused space.
“We’re taking a similar approach (as White Rock UMC),” says Owenwood’s Josh Esparza. “But we’ll look a little different.”
Soon, two interns will begin living full time at Owenwood, full time connections to the community which will weave new thread in the neighborhood.