A small patch of land is coming to life at southern Dallas’ Austin Street Center, which serves the most vulnerable of the city’s homeless population.

A tiny green bud strives to become a juicy red tomato. A baby squash peeks out from under a leaf. Fresh mulch crumbles under your feet, and bees are busy pollinating. The air is light, breezy, hopeful. There’s something to look forward to.

The shelter recently broke ground on the New Hope Garden, a sustainable growing system with in-ground plots full of vegetable seedlings, raised beds with herbs, plants for pollinators and even an innovative aquaponics system.

Austin Street Center's Daniel Roby (right) helps his daughter, Banner, plant seedings after the dedication ceremony of the center's New Hope Garden in Dallas. (Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor)
Austin Street Center’s Daniel Roby (right) helps his daughter, Banner, plant seedings after the dedication ceremony of the center’s New Hope Garden in Dallas.

Soil for the soul

Daniel Roby, executive director of Austin Street Center, is a member of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas class of 2017. For its class project, the team raised money to design, build and install the garden on land that the center just recently purchased.

The garden is for the 400 daily residents of the emergency shelter to maintain and enjoy.

“This really serves two functions: [improving] their physical health and mental health,” Roby says.

“Sixty percent of the homeless population we serve has chronic health problems. The residents will maintain the garden, be exposed to fresh air and exercise, and then reap the benefits of eating the fresh produce they harvest.”

Scot Sanders, project manager of the Austin Street Center's New Hope Garden, plants cucumbers. (Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor)
Scot Sanders, project manager of the Austin Street Center’s New Hope Garden, plants cucumbers.

Sustainable, urban solutions

Two other members of the Leadership Dallas class helped conceptualize and design the garden: Lenny Hughes, a landscape architect with Halff Associates in Richardson, and Scot Sanders, a civil engineer with Jacobs Engineering who spent 22 years in the Navy.

Sanders researched the aquaponics project, which grows edible plants and fish together in a single system. A fish tank produces nutrient-rich water from the fish waste, which then feeds the roots of the plants. No soil is needed.

“We were looking for more green, sustainable solutions that are viable in an urban environment,” Sanders says. “Aquaponics fit those requirements. It uses a third less water than a regular garden and produces 30 percent more crops. You also don’t need much space. You can put it on an apartment balcony.”

Scot Sanders, project manager of the Austin Street Center's New Hope Garden, releases fish that will help nourish the aquaponics garden.(Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor)
Scot Sanders, project manager of the Austin Street Center’s New Hope…