Amy Severson On Dallas Farmers Market

Amy and Jim “Sevy” Severson are big supporters of the Dallas Farmers Market, especially the Days of Taste program and the cooking classes. Amy posted a comment earlier under this post about neighborhood’s running their own local markets. She brings up some great points. Our downtown Farmers Market needs some love. Let’s discuss. Thanks for your thoughts, Amy.

First, I was under the impression that the city health permits for these events were problematic. As in permit cost and requirements for food that needs refrigeration and special care.

Second, it raises the question if so many people are interested in smaller, more intimate settings for markets, is the downtown Farmer’s Market serving the city as well as it could.

Hubby and I have been big supporters of the Dallas Farmer’s Market and its programs over the last 15 years (cooking classes, Days of Taste), but it is discouraging to see how few people believe that it is truly a “Farmers’” market. Most people I talk to feel it is just the same produce that is sold by vendors to the supermarkets (and in some cases they are correct), so why bother to go?

Sporadic improvements have brought a wonderful Resource Center (truly impressive) that is out of place with the buildings around it. The other new building, built without air conditioning was a hodge-podge of vendors, which are starting to be evicted and replaced with food businesses, but is that enough to bring people down to shop?

And I am proud to live in a city that would build a shelter like The Bridge, but seeing the crowds pour out in the morning and hanging out on the corners around the market really drives purchasers away. The last time I was down there with a group of elementary kids, I had to admit, it was enough to make me not want to go back to shop.

Recently I had the great pleasure of visiting San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. All the temporary food vendors (including those cooking up sandwiches and tamales) were located in 10 x 10 white tents around the perimiter of the main building. Inside the building were market stores – as in with doors, counters, cash registers – all operated by some of the best gourmet foods of the region (fresh bread, cheeses, mushrooms). It was so crowded, so vibrant with people and food and things to watch. And they even had a little wine bar where you could take a break and have some locally made wine flights. Then back to shopping.

Not that we should follow their example, but it was stark contrast to what is available (and the numbers that attend) our main market.

So I guess my question is, are smaller markets within the sub-neighborhoods of Dallas serving the public better than our city owned facility?

I was very excited to hear about North Haven Gardens “First Sunday Market” (April 5th) here in my neighborhood, but they’ve had to limit what food items can be sold. And I really understand the need for health safety permits (pistachio anyone?), but hope there is a way to accomodate both.

22 comments on “Amy Severson On Dallas Farmers Market

  1. I want to reinforce that we are big believers in Dallas Farmer’s Market and it’s management. They’ve made some great changes over the last few years, but have had some real changes to deal with on its borders.

    I guess another way to ask this question, is if there are so many “local growers” showing up at these smaller markets, why are they not interested in being at the downtown location? How are the vendors and the purchasers not being served?

  2. Why shouldn’t Dallas follow San Francisco’s example? Are they following any example right now? Didn’t they bring in some lady from Virginia a couple years ago to “fix” the Farmer’s Market?

    I know that the McKinney FM is certainly “serving my needs” better than the DFM does. Basically the only real reason for me to drive down, other than for something to do, is Lemley’s tomatoes, because I know they’re good and I know they’ll be there, week in, week out. Nothing against the Texas Meats stall, but they don’t provide anything I can’t get from McKinney.

    Maybe the smaller farms like Dominion and Oak Ridge just can’t provide enough to make it worthwhile to be at the DFM? Why not ask them?

  3. The Dallas Farmer’s Market is almost a microcasm of our city: ineptitude, perceived lack of effort and focus.

    I live walking distance from the Farmer’s Market and it just pains me to visit. I am accosted by Vendors (which I can deal with but hate). The produce is average, at best. I share the same feeling (yet don’t know if it’s true) that the produce, in general, seems to be the same stuff that we can buy at freaking Kroger – and it’s more expensive many times. I get better prices on organics at Whole Foods many times.

    There are little, if any, organic offerings. That is a huge growth area that’s not being explored.

    I just spent a week in Seattle and made a daily trek to Pike Place Market and every day was impressed, amazed and yet dumbfounded. Why can’t a city with access to good local produce, meets, cheeses actually bring it all together at a facility like the one we have? It’s stunning. We can’t get some semblance of a market even remotely similar.

    Communities a quarter of the size of Dallas do it better. Why can’t we even compare?

  4. This also juxtaposes with the recent issues of food safety.

    When the tomato/pepper scare hit last year, I had an interesting conversation with a produce supplier who indicated that suppliers were moving towards growers that could carry liability insurance on their products. It was a natural reaction to the lawsuits that were filed by those who became ill from tainted products. They wanted assurance that the farmers were as financially vested in any problems as they were.

    But liability insurance is costly, and perhaps prohibitively so for the small producer. Which creates a need for them to sell their products through new venues.

    On the one hand we want more regulation of the things we eat, but on the other hand we value the “small, local grower”. How reassured can you be about food from a farm that is 50 miles from Dallas that you’ve never visited? About as reassured as a farm that is 1,000 miles away.

    So please take care before you assume that these small markets are the panacea to our food problems. And please wash all your veggies and fruits before eating.

  5. Thank you Amy for finally being someone in the biz that will finally step up and speak up on something that many of us in our world have been reluctant to say but have certainly wanted to before now.

    Don’t know if our reluctance for not saying anything has to do with a feeling of guilt for complaining or just being baffled as to how to go about helping to fix our farmer’s market.

    Certainly most of us have visited farmer’s markets in other cities like the one you mentioned or the one bueller mentions and have had the thought — why can’t we have this in Dallas. I don’t know the answer to this.

    Why can’t we have this in Dallas someone?

  6. To be honest I am more reassured regarding the farm 50 miles away that I’ve never been to, versus the farm 1000 miles away.

    And I don’t really feel a great need to have more regulation of the food I eat either. I’m probably not in the mainstream on that issue though.

    I don’t think anybody’s saying small farms/markets are a panacea. The food is simply better. If I’m paying a premium, the food needs to be fresh and taste better than what I’d buy otherwise. Is that so much to ask?

  7. Lu, you may not want more regulation, but others don’t want to risk their kids lives by buying peanut butter.

    Not to mention, that if you look at the recent peanut butter scandal, the ones who paid the most were the ones who followed the rules the best. Take Nestle, they paid big dollars to inspect their suppliers, but to keep their product price competitive with companies that didn’t, they “ate” that cost. Then the scandal hits, no one is out there saying “don’t eat peanut butter, but Nestle’s products are ok”, the message was “don’t eat peanut butter”. So Nestle suffered the same drop in sales even though they did everything right.

    In the mean time, their slacker competitors paid far less for shoddy inspections (like less than 10% of the true cost of inspection) and got to keep the money in profits. Why? Because regulations allowed them to.

    Remember when they found technology that turned human waste into “clean” fertilizer? All I could think of was, well, what if someone had a bad day at the plant, or a heating element broke, or some other small thing went wrong. 100% organic, honey. But unfortunately a recipe for illness.

  8. Is it SF or Seattle? No. WIll I be having juevos y chorizo at El Mercado on Sunday, then getting some vegetables and mondo grass? Yes. Farmers Market is one of my favorite places in Dallas.

  9. Something is going right if Luniz is willing to drive down from McKinney for tomatoes. It’s unfortunate that we aren’t able to capture more of her shopping.

    And VM, I agree, one of my favorite places to zone out and shop. But as taxpayers/ investors, shouldn’t we ask for something better with our investment?

    Me, I’d probably shut up if we could just get the local wine flights served down there.

  10. I’m all for local growers selling their own product at a fair price without having to deal with the major food tyrant companies like Monsanto, Tyson and IBP. And I applaud the efforts of the local bee keepers, farmers, and ranchers for making such a place possible.

    But I’m concerned about how many products are not local. Sure there is honey from almost every zip code in the city, but what about the produce comes in from Mexico, Arizona and California?

  11. The Dallas Farmer’s Mkt. is evolving into a Monster Market that has little to do with farmers or local produce.

    Where’s the local produce? Oh..back there in the back of Shed 1, you might find a few local farmers who are hanging on while their rent skyrockets.
    Where is Shed 1?
    Oh..it’s behind the Shed where the “cold storage” produce displays have been layed out to resemble a “still life’ paintings.
    I’ve always wondered if they hire a “designer” to come out in the wee hours to arrange the produce, so the shoppers think they’re strolling through a gourmet food store or wandering through the pages of BonAppetite.

    Prices? No deals anymore. No bargining…because most of the sellers aren’t the growers. They’re just hired by the wholesalers to sell the produce. Prices are laid in stone…and no cheaper than your local grocery store.

    Weekends are a Hoot. Strolling winesippers, people watchers, who smell the melons, squeeze the lemons and peel the grapes and fondle the tomatoes. Basically a social “outing”.

    Well that was a Rant !!!

    I still go the the Farmer’s Market..on a weekday morning during the growing season.
    I make a bee line for the back of Shed 1 and do my shopping. In the Spring, I stop at the plant areas and get my bedding plants.

    I’d love to see the local farmers come in early in the morning and back their trucks, filled with locally grown produce, up into the sheds and set out their little cartons of produce on the wooden boards.
    Smiling and willing to bargin and chat…and throw in a few “snaps” with the black-eyed peas.

    That time is gone, pushed away by the “urban” gurus, who have a skewed idea of just what a “Farmers” market should be. I’m waiting for them to come up with the bright idea to enclose the Sheds and air-condition them.

  12. When I first got the mobile pizza oven started, I wanted to be down at the farmer’s market. It is not uncommon to see pizza ovens @ markets. I think Seattle has a regular one. I reached out to several contacts there and was given “no thanks” by all.

  13. I have tried to love the Dallas Farmers Market and all it does is let you down over and over again like a bad country song. Seems like every year there is a bright shiny Dallas Morning News article declaring how it has all changed, reinvented itself, or brought in new management. States emphatically that it is not the same produce as Kroger on a good day(although the food PLU numbers on some of the fruits beg to differ) now it is mostly locally grown organic produce with some other items mixed in for fun like pineapples. We pile into the car trek in from Plano, and wow are we disappointed again when it is the same old story all over again with very few poorly marked local and/or organic growers, but lots and lots of pineapples.

    As to what can be done to improve the farmers Market? I believe it is being done. People have stopped waiting for someone else to do it for them and have started organizing their own markets the way they want them. Hopefully one of these new independent Farmers Markets will gain traction and grow into something Dallas can be proud to call its own. Even better two or three of the neighborhood markets will take off and provide competition and variety. Of course if you want cooking classes there are more than enough stores and restaurants offering those opportunities in Dallas. As for the Dallas Farmers Market maybe we could turn it into more beds and a soup kitchen for the homeless they had already staked their claim on the bathrooms last time I was there.

  14. The fix is easy. Slam the f*%ing door on non-farmers and non-local produce. Period. If that means three barns sit empty, so be it. What is left will be from real producers and will be local, which is the whole damned point of the thing. Once local producers don’t feel like they have to compete with distributors of produce from all over creation, they’ll start coming. It would take time, but it would grow into something real.

    It’s too late for that now. The market is just a boondoggle for jobs and construction projects. The city would rather see if full of South American fruits and vegetables than mostly empty, but with 100% farmers and local produce.

    Thank God the suburbs are starting to fill in the vacuum. The suburban markets are often no larger than a convenience store parking lot, but many of them have a greater variety of local produce than the whole Dallas Farmers Market. The action will stay north and west of Dallas city limits now.

  15. I used to drive down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market from Plano but quickly discovered it’s not worth the effort or cost. There are very few local farmers there, and as another writer pointed out, the vendors there do little to hide the PLUs or wholesaler boxes in which they purchase the produce.

    Be assured that I will not return to the Dallas FM. I’ll stick to Georgia’s in Plano or the McKinney FM where you can actually interact with local growers rather than hired help with dirty fingers offering samples of mediocre produce in a rapidly deteriorating area.

  16. Why is the Dallas Farmers’ Market called such when produce dealers outnumber actual farmers 3-to-1?

    Last year I went to a talk given by the “new” Director of the DFM about what the plans were for improving the DFM, the challenges, and how those challenges might be dealt with. For months after that talk, I visited the market every week, wanting to believe that things would change. What has changed? very little, to my eyes. I don’t go anymore, except when I know Lemley’s tomatoes and peaches will be available, or to pick up some blueberries. I’m disgusted with the produce vendors, pushing (I mean pushing) their mundane goods at higher prices than the supermarkets. They will look me in the eye and lie about where their crap comes from. Why would I put up with that? There’s a lot fewer produce dealers at the smaller markets. I don’t have to deal with ‘em. I don’t even have to see ‘em. That automatically makes it a better experience.

    The Texas meats counter in Shed 2 is a joke. 4 times out of 5 what I want isn’t available, and the teenagers working the counters can’t tell me when it will be. Why would I put up with THAT? And don’t get me started on that wannabe coffee guru with his pseudo-science babble. He’s sniffing too much of the fumes coming from the bean roaster. Why would I put up with that?

    At least the King of Spice and his wife are an adorable couple. I wish more people knew they were there.

    Listen to the Nun. What Dallas should have done was to shut down the market except for the one end of Shed 1. Let the other sheds sit empty until you need the space, i.e. when real farmers and producers are clamoring to be there. The city and the new DFM administration has been completely ineffectual in changing anything. Whether or not I’m correct in that assertion is moot. Perception is reality.

    When I lived in Seattle, and NYC, and SF, I lived near the markets, because they’re great. I wanted to be near the market. They all had a “real food” vibe that can only be conveyed by the people who nurtured food to market ready, and that can only be sustained by people who will appreciate and relish the opportunity to enjoy that food. It was genuine. It was full of the sense of life itself, and whole business and residential neighborhoods and nightlife grew from the anchor markets.

    Are you gonna get genuine from a produce dealer? Yeah, they genuinely want to take your money.

    NYC doesn’t just have 1 greenmarket, by the way. There are many all over the city and in the boroughs.

    to Amy, I’m 10x more comfortable with food from a small farm, which I might have never visited, 50 miles away than a factory farm, no matter how near or far away. That’s because the small farm, generally speaking, is much less likely to follow the factory farming practices that have poisoned our food supply. I got the gist of your post, but your example was not worthy. The food “scandals” happened because they’re widespread. Small producers don’t produce enough stuff to cause widespread problems.

    The one thing about those successful markets, too, is that the goods were, well, good. At the SF Ferry building market, I could, for example, get stone fruits that surpassed anything restaurant purveyors could deliver. I’d get first oft he season berries at Pike Place, to go in the same basket as fish just minutes off the boat. I’d get ramps and spring garlic and new cauliflower and foraged mushrooms at the greenmarkets. Beside the fact that it was “clean”, it was delicious stuff. Outside of a few blueberries, a few weeks’ worth of tomatoes and about 2 weeks’ worth of peaches, what’s good at the DFM? To be honest, outside of tomatoes and peaches, Lemley’s stuff ain’t all that.

    DFM, you had a chance to live up to the support I wanted and tried to give you. You failed me not just by a little but miserably. I feel betrayed, just like others who have posted. I’m done with you. Shut it down and let the suburban ones have a chance to thrive. I’d rather drive to three suburban markets than make one aggravating trip to the DFM.

  17. Truth is if we didn’t have those out of state and country vendors there would be little to sell between November and May. I just returned from east Texas and I saw very few small truck farms compared to just 5 years ago. The Dallas farmers market will never be like S.F. or Seattle.

  18. Thank you Amy for opening up the discussion! Let’s be aware of the situation. Reading through most of the comments we all need to realize some things. Texas produce is not in season all year round, like in San Fran. Shed 3 is a produce dealer Shed, not a farmers shed. Shed 1 is the farmers shed outside the first stalls on each side on the west end and our season is end of April throught Sept. If you come out during that time you will see farmers there. From what I hear, there are more farmers coming back that Shed 1 will be completly filled and they are going to block off the street behind Shed 1 to allow for more farmers.

    Shed 2 will be a wonderful venue once it is open. It is set up to by like a Public Market. Up to 60 types of food related business will be in there.

    Regarding the Food and Saftey Modernization Act 2009. If it stands as written it will wipeout our local farmers and ranchers. There is NO WAY they can withstand the added cost they will have to bare to ahere to the guidelines. I urge every foodie to write your local House and Senate rep. So far Eddie Bernice Johnson is the only rep in Texas that is supporting this bill. If you live in her district please wrtie her.

    In closing it does say Dallas Farmers Market, but it is also a produce dealer market and soon to be public market all in one and I am excited about that.

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