By Khristian Howard
East Waco is a source of rich, proud history. Just a mention of revered figures like World War II hero Doris Miller or of Paul Quinn College, the oldest historically black college in Texas, reminds us of the national significance of this part of the Waco community.
What does East Waco have to offer now? There are several gems in the community that continue to sustain the residents, preserve its culture, inspire change, and fuel its heartbeat… but you may have to look for them. One such gem is Da Shack Farmer’s Market. Located in a quaint and quiet part of the neighborhood at 925 Houston Street, “Da Shack” (like the name implies) may not impress you from the outside. However, once you walk through the doors and enter the green oasis that is their garden, you realize it is a hub for nutritious food, education, beauty, and serenity.
Donna Nickerson, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Da Shack, sat down for a brief interview. She shared about how the farmer’s market began, and talked about her dreams for benefiting the community.
First, how did they come up with the name? “I wanted something that was catchy, something that was different. As far as the name, ‘Da Shack’ is not a place where it’s fancy…it’s just simple.” she explained. “We try to implement simple things – even with gardening. We try to utilize our resources and try to communicate that with the community as well. That way they know you can use what you have. You don’t have to be fancy with things, just use what’s available.”
What should a visitor expect from Da Shack? For Donna, the most important thing is for customers to leave with an education, even if they do not buy anything. “When they come here, they are going to learn about healthy eating, organic growing, gardening. Our goal is not to just provide healthy organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs…but also to educate them on how to grow and start gardening.” Da Shack is a place where there is something for every potential gardener. For folks who do not want to grow their vegetables from the ground, Donna and the others at Da Shack can give advice and guidance on how to start with pots, vegetable cans, or even in water.
Donna’s passion for educating people on how to improve their health shares roots with her profession as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. Da Shack provides an avenue for addressing both physical and mental health. In fact, Da Shack is now offering mental health services to the community. Donna is registered with most insurance agencies and is also providing sliding scale and pro-bono sessions for visitors to learn about behavioral health, managing stress, and more. When asked about why she chose to connect therapy to the farmer’s market, she stated, “Behavioral health is a barrier for a lot of people. If it is not addressed, it creates walls for individuals. Healthy people understand stress and how to cope with it…If you are in good condition physically, you’ll be in good condition emotionally, and vice versa because they work hand-in-hand…not a lot of psychotherapy services are present [in East Waco] and it is a big need.” Furthermore, she wanted “people in the community to come to a place where there is serenity, relaxation, warmth, and resources.”
In recent years, Waco has been a hub for social and economic transformation. Businesses are seeing a new promising market, families are finding supportive communities for their children, and students continue to flood to one of the oldest, most respected universities in the South. The work that Da Shack does in the community could be done downtown or in Woodway or Hewitt, so…why East Waco? When approached with this question, Donna gives a nod to the importance of managing perceptions about the neighborhood. She sees promise in East Waco, she says, and wants Da Shack’s location to be a catalyst for collective impact around healthier living there. “…As long as people continue to develop, as long as people continue to have a positive outlook, there’s really a lot of potential here, it’s just going to take a lot of collaboration. A lot of the key people that are willing to do something really need to be connected.”
Da Shack is a special place for East Wacoans, and for the rest of the city as well. They offer organic products that range from houseplants and outdoor plants, to vegetables and herbs, to instructional sessions about plant benefits and growing.
Beginning February 2nd, they will be accepting SNAP as a way to eliminate any financial barriers for the community – though their products are already priced at a fair rate to ensure affordability. In addition to this, they will soon be implementing smoothies for those who would rather drink their veggies, greenhouse classes and tours for students and non-profits, and monthly donations to families in need in East Waco.
Da Shack Farmer’s Market has taken a creative approach to marrying hobbies with service, nutrition with mental health, and the public sphere with privately-owned business. Ventures like these build on the historic positive energy of East Waco and move the whole community of Waco toward a healthy future.
Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.