College Turns Football Field Into Farm To Save Community

(photo credit: Ben Sklar)

(photo credit: Ben Sklar)

When you think of Texas sports, you think of football. The Friday night football games are as big if not bigger than NFL games with 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. And college football is even bigger.

But one college president decided to put the health of his staff and students first and turn the football field into a farm.

It was seven years ago when college President Michael Sorrell, a former college basketball player, decided to kill Paul Quinn’s cash-strapped football program. Two years later, he transformed the old field into an organic farm. And yes, people said he was insane; his plan was sure to fail. And yet this Thanksgiving, when the Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium, the big-money high rollers in the stadium’s suites will eat pasta drizzled with pesto rooted in Paul Quinn basil.

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“We are in a food desert. In fact there is no grocery store in our entire zip code. So what that does, it creates bad habits. So our staff all started gaining weight and being unhealthy. I thought our people deserved better and quite frankly we decided to do something about it,” explained Sorrell.

Sorrell realized this firsthand when he took the president’s job at Paul Quinn in fall 2007. By spring, he had gained 15 pounds, thanks to lunch and dinner options that were limited to chicken shacks, convenience stores and fast food. The healthiest choice was Subway, three miles down the road. So he sacrificed the football program to create a farm in a college that has no agriculture program and no one knows how to farm.

“No one thought it was a good idea. But we weren’t afraid to fail and felt that we would figure it out and we did. Now we have a chicken coop, a greenhouse, hydroponics, and we have a 1,000 tilapia growing. We are not only supplying food to our cafeterias, we are also supply food to local businesses. One of our biggest clients is the Dallas Cowboys. So if you’re at the Dallas Cowboys stadium, you are eating our food. So here we are, our football program wasn’t going to send anyone to the NFL, but now we are feeding the NFL and that’s a much better story.”

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During the rebuilding process he even was going to give away free land to grocery stores, but they basically said he students, minority black and latino, were not their customers.

“To hear someone say it, to have someone tell you that, basically, poor, black and brown people don’t deserve what you provide , I was livid.”

That’s when Sorrell went full steam ahead with the plan. Alumni of the program howled, but when Sorrell challenged…