Left to right: Rep. David Simpson, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, Rep. John Davis (standing), and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, founder and chairman of the caucus, participated in Friday's listening session as part of the Texas Farm-to-Market tour. The tour, initiated by the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus, will travel around the state throughout the next six months in an effort to connect local farmers, small producers and restaurant owners with their legislators. (Photography by Desiree Espada)

Food Politics: Farm-to-Table Caucus Listening Session at Dallas Farmers Market

(Photography by Desiree Espada)
(Photography by Desiree Espada)

Friday morning, area farmers and Dallas Farmers Market personnel filed into the second floor of the Dallas Farmers Market administration building for a listening session with area representatives as part of the kickoff of the Texas Farm-to-Market tour, a part of the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus.

Formed in the spring of 2012, the caucus is the nation’s first bi-partisan state legislative caucus to assemble in support of family farms and sustainable farming. Since the caucus’ inception, two pieces of legislation have been passed–the Cottage Foods Bill, which allows buyers and sellers to connect at farmers markets, and a law relating to regulation of food prepared, stored, distributed, or sold at farms and farmers’ markets.

The night before, the Dallas Farmers Market hosted a Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus Dinner, which featured a long-table dinner prepared by notable Dallas chefs such as Graham Dodds of Central 214, Sharon Hage of SHage Consulting, Adam West of The Porch and Mark Wootton of Garden Café.

Marie Tedei, a farmer and market manager in Balch Springs, discussed the harm of pesticide spraying. Her concern was echoed by several other farmers in attendance.  (Photography by Desiree Espada)
Marie Tedei, a farmer and market manager in Balch Springs, discussed the harm of pesticide spraying. Her concern was echoed by several other farmers in attendance. (Photography by Desiree Espada)

The listening session was the first in a series of similar sessions that will take place around the state within the next six months in an effort to bring legislators and farmers, small producers and restaurant owners together where they can voice issues effecting their day-to-day operations. Through these sessions, legislators pinpoint ideas for legislation to propose throughout the next legislative session.

Reps. David Simpson, John Davis, Eddie Rodriguez, and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey participated in the session.“We thought there needed to be a place for people to go to, to say, ‘This is what we need,’” said Rodriguez, founder and chairman of the caucus. Simpson emphasized the crowd’s importance. “Food and freedom bring us together,” Simpson told the crowd. “Ideas that are really helpful start with y’all.”

Several audience members, including Marie Tedei, a farmer and market manager in Balch Springs, brought specific concerns before the officials, namely pesticide spraying. “Farms that grow using only organic and natural methods need protection from municipal and county spraying of toxic, unnatural chemicals and sufficient buffer zones that protect the integrity of crops and products we make a living with,” Tedei said. She also emphasized the posed risk to wildlife and other animals the spraying can cause. Tedei has been dealing with the spraying since she broke ground in 2008, but said it became a larger issue for her two years ago.

Susie Marshall, executive director of GROW North Texas, talked about the importance of GMO labeling. (photography by Desiree Espada)
Susie Marshall, executive director of GROW North Texas, talked about the importance of GMO labeling. (photography by Desiree Espada)

The farmers raised other significant concerns including research on new irrigation models, effective GMO labeling on foods, and how they feel the State Department of Agriculture is understaffed.

Kari Gates, president of the Collin County Farmers Market, noted the effects the understaffing of the Texas Department of Agriculture office is having on local farmers. J. T Lemley to her right.(Photography by Desiree Espada)
Kari Gates, president of the Collin County Farmers Market, noted the effects the understaffing of the Texas Department of Agriculture office is having on local farmers. J. T. Lemley to her right.(Photography by Desiree Espada)

Many in attendance were appreciative of the session, although there were a couple of requests to have future sessions on “any day but a Friday” as many farmers spend the day harvesting in preparation of Saturday market. Tedei said the listening sessions are a good start. “It’s late to the game,” she said. “But it’s a start that will result in change.”

Kari Gates, president of the Collin County Farmers Market, echoed Tedei’s sentiments. “[In the past], there was nowhere to go,” she said. “I felt it was vital to be here today.”