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College turns football field into organic farm

At Paul Quinn College, where once there was a football field, now there’s an organic farm, PBS Newshour reports.

It’s not just a symbol of renewal for this once-struggling historically black college in Dallas; it’s where students work to pay tuition. As part of the PBS Rethinking College series, Hari Sreenivasan explores how students learn to understand the expectations of a career while gaining a liberal arts education.

Hari Sreenivasan visits Dallas, where an innovative college president is growing a new kind of student.

HARI SREENIVASAN: At a Texas college, a football field that was turned into a farm.

MAN: We need to harvest about 10 pounds of radishes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Tigers of Paul Quinn College lost more football games than they won on this field. So, nine years ago, when the historically black college on the South Side of Dallas was in financial crisis and had a 1 percent graduation rate, a new president turned everything over, including the football field.

So, did you envision this when you first saw the football field and the…

SorrellMICHAEL SORRELL, President, Paul Quinn College: No, no.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Michael Sorrell had no experience running a college. He had been a lawyer and White House special assistant, but he knew Paul Quinn couldn’t afford a football program.

MICHAEL SORRELL: There’s more than one field of dreams, all right? Why should we tie everyone’s future to athletic success?

HARI SREENIVASAN: He turned the football field into an organic farm that generates more than 20,000 pounds of organic vegetables every year, veggies that make it into high-end restaurants and into the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.

MICHAEL SORRELL: I think this has saved our school. It saved it because it changed the narrative of the institution.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The farm has become a symbol for a remade Paul Quinn College.

MICHAEL SORRELL: We’re the first urban work college in the country. And so our students learn what it means to be effective and to have job skills and work skills.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But as important as career and college are to Sorrell’s vision, he also pushes his students to engage in community service.

MICHAEL SORRELL: We believe that colleges have a fundamental responsibility, if you’re located in an urban area, to turn outward and address the needs of the communities you serve. We are in a food desert. There’s no grocery store for four miles. Right? I mean, that’s real.

People don’t have access to healthy food. I mean affordable, fresh and healthy produce. We decided we have the ability to solve the problem, and we’re going to go solve the problem.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that what people come to college to learn?

MICHAEL SORRELL: Someone’s going to figure out the urban issues. Why shouldn’t it be the people who came from those urban communities that have a vested interest in those neighborhoods?

HARI SREENIVASAN: In keeping with that mission, the college donates 10 percent of the produce from the farm, named WE over Me, to the surrounding underserved community.

VINCENT OWOSENI: If you look at the need around you, and you look at your resource, you can, say, hey, I can use this space right here to grow what my community needs. Where someone else sees hopelessness, you see an opportunity.


One college turns its football field into a farm and sees its students transform (PBS Newshour)

Images: PBS Newshour