October 24, 2016

Mad for the Market

The Dallas Farmers Market has transformed from uninspiring to enticing.

For decades, the Dallas Farmers Market was a conundrum.

On the edge of southeast Dallas in a scruffy, predominantly vacant neighborhood, it was a gem gone rogue. Pyramids of produce peddled from nondescript metal sheds were often anything but local; instead, repurposed for resale from worldwide commercial produce houses. Visiting patrons couldn’t easily identify which vendors were farmers and which were simply middlemen. In a city where it was nearly impossible to find a large selection of local, farm􏰀fresh produce, meats, dairy, and artisanal foods—much less all in one stop—the market was struggling.

The historical venue, founded in 1941 and less than a mile from The Joule, had lost its soul. But it wasn’t for lack of history. The market’s beginnings trace back to the late 1800s, when Dallas merchants switched from selling cotton to peddling poultry and produce out of necessity. V􏰁endors set up shop 􏰂first from horse􏰀drawn wagons, and later from trucks—at the intersection of South Pearl and Cadiz streets. 􏰃The first trading shed was estab􏰄lished in 1939 at the market’s current location, bordered by Marilla Street, South Harwood Street, South 􏰈Cesar Chavez Boulevard, and I-30. 􏰈In 1941, the site was sanctioned as a city􏰀owned and funded market.

Improvements—including additional sheds—happened intermittently over the nex􏰎t 70-􏰏􏰌􏰀plus years, b􏰄ut the market remained largely stagnant, and commercial dealers still thrived. As farmers markets burgeoned nationwide (the number has increased by nearly 80 percent since 1994, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service), Dallas was lagging behind.

Today, a visitor would never guess any of this while strolling through the market. The sprawling, bustling area—in its most organized iteration ever—is vibrant with cooking demonstrations, yoga classes, live music, and shoppers freely roaming and mingling in pedestrian􏰀-friendly spaces.

􏰐􏰋If you want 􏰃Tex􏰎as flair, you will get it at the D􏰑allas Farmers 􏰒Market,”􏰓 says Emily Valentino, the venue’s director of market operations. “It’s truly a uni􏰔que neigh􏰄borhood now.􏰓

􏰃This change in atmosphere is recent. I􏰋n 2013􏰕􏰌􏰅􏰇, 􏰑Dallas sold a ma􏰖jority stake in the market to private firm 􏰑DF 􏰒Market 􏰗Holdings, LLC􏰘􏰘􏰈, and 􏰄backed a $65 million overhaul with $15 million in subsidies. In 2014, one of the property’s buildings was revitalized and reopened as The Shed, housing produce, artisanal goods, hormone-􏰀free meats, plants, arts and crafts, and other market staples. At􏰙 30,000 square feet and with more than 53 stalls, it’s one of the largest open-􏰀air pavilions in 􏰃Tex􏰎as.

In June 2015 came perhaps the most important transition: The Dallas Farmers 􏰒Market instituted a local􏰀-farmers-􏰀only policy.

“W􏰐􏰛hen it’s sold at 􏰃the Shed, you know it’s from T􏰃ex􏰎as,􏰓” V􏰁alentino says. “Artisans make or produce everything sold there. You’re not going to get anything internationally.􏰓”

Formal vetting of each farmer is a process spearheaded 􏰄by A􏰙manda Vanhoozier, director of market operations, whose reputation for her work cultivating a neighborhood farmers market in the North Texas suburb of Coppell precedes her.

“W􏰐􏰛e are very supportive of farms and the farmers who are putting the work in, cultivating the fields, planting the seeds, 􏰂and everything that goes on 􏰄behind the scenes,􏰓” she says. “B􏰐􏰊y creating this market for them, it allows more farms to get started. We’re trying to increase the number of farms in 􏰝North T􏰃ex􏰎as.”􏰓

While more than 50 farmers are represented throughout the year, many offerings are seasonal. 􏰒Meaning you won’t find stalls piled high with resale produce, b􏰄ut instead a smaller selection of top􏰀 q􏰔uality, seasonal, and diverse fruits and vegeta􏰄bles from small􏰀scale farms that are dependent upon the weather.

“􏰐Farmers will only harvest what they can,􏰓” V􏰁anhoo􏰉ier says. “T􏰐􏰃hey are working their fields, like a peach orchard farmer who is 􏰖just growing peaches. 􏰊But the great thing a􏰄out that is, the hand that picked it placed it in a 􏰄box􏰎, then in a trailer, then here. 􏰋It’s fresher, high􏰀􏰔 quality, seasonal.􏰓”

Vanhoozier says she is aiming for a 50 percent farmer occupancy goal.

􏰐􏰋”In the past, there were 10􏰅􏰌 produce dealers that took up 􏰞􏰌80 percent of the shed,􏰓” she says. 􏰐􏰃”That 80􏰞􏰌 percent was produce house reselling. 􏰝Now, they have to b􏰄e a grower.􏰓”

The remaining space in The Shed is dedicated to food artisans and arts and crafts. Vanhoozier is hoping the low-􏰀overhead market will serve as a 􏰄business incub􏰄ator 􏰟(and several companies, including Wackym’s Kitchen Cookies, got their start at the market). Visitors can grab a bag of small􏰀􏰄-batch granola from 􏰑Dallas’ W􏰛hite 􏰠Rock 􏰡Granola 􏰟(we love the 􏰐􏰡”Gorilla a 􏰡Go G􏰡o􏰓” with pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries, originally created for primates at the Dallas Zoo), and pickles, 􏰂or even pickled watermelon rinds􏰂 made with local produce and Four 􏰈Corners 􏰊Brewing 􏰈Co. 􏰄beers b􏰄y 􏰑Dallas’ 􏰃􏰀􏰠T-Rex􏰎 P􏰢ickles. 􏰑Dallasites love elotes, and glimmering corn is roasted and tossed in 􏰄butter or cheese and crema on􏰀site at the legendary 􏰢Paul’s Sweet 􏰠Roasted 􏰈Corn.

Ne􏰝e􏰎t door is T􏰃he M􏰒arket, a 􏰕􏰣26,000-􏰌􏰌􏰌􏰀s􏰔quare􏰀-foot space that officially opened this past spring. 􏰛With a San Francisco’s Ferry 􏰊Building 􏰒Marketplace vi􏰄be, the lively indoor space holds do􏰉zens of b􏰄outi􏰔ques, artisanal food purveyors, and restaurants, with more on the way. Residents of the neighborhood—officially du􏰄bbed the 􏰑Dallas Farmers 􏰒Market 􏰑District􏰂 can often 􏰄be found grabb􏰄􏰄ing a morning espresso at Palmieri Café, a popular Italian coffee shop and bakery founded by a Southern Italian transplant who earned his 􏰒􏰊􏰙MBA at 􏰑Dallas􏰀􏰄-based Southern 􏰒Methodist 􏰤University. 􏰒Mex􏰎ican street tacos􏰂 and other D􏰑allas favorite􏰂s, along with churros and margaritas can b􏰄e found at 􏰃Taq􏰔ueri􏰥a L􏰘a V􏰁entana. Fresh seafood can 􏰄e found at 􏰠Rex􏰎’s Seafood at the M􏰒arket.

􏰃The Farmers M􏰒arket also now 􏰄boasts the first teaching garden within a national farmers market, sponsored 􏰄y the 􏰙American 􏰗Heart A􏰙ssociation. 􏰒Mama 􏰋Ida’s T􏰃eaching 􏰡Garden—􏰂the name a tri􏰄bute to 􏰋Ida 􏰢Papert, founder of advocacy group 􏰑Dallas Farmers 􏰒Market Friends􏰂—opened in 􏰕􏰌􏰅􏰚2015. I􏰋t serves to educate school􏰀-age children on sustaina􏰄ble produce growth. 􏰦Just across from 􏰃The M􏰒arket b􏰄uilding is M􏰒udhen M􏰒eat and G􏰡reens, founded 􏰄by well􏰀-known 􏰑Dallas restaurateur Shannon 􏰛Wynne, which serves up healthful dishes based on seasonal produce.

“W􏰐􏰛e are j􏰖ust getting it off the ground, but we have a good foundation and a very sustainab􏰄le plan to move the market into the nex􏰎t 􏰇􏰌30 years,”􏰓 V􏰁anhooz􏰉ier says. “B􏰐􏰊ut it will take time. 􏰙Anything that’s good will have to take time.􏰓”

In the interim, the urban market stands as a gathering place—a community asset and educational playground that compliments D􏰑allas’ thriving food, arts, and culture scenes. I􏰋t is a long-􏰀missing—􏰂and much􏰀-welcomed􏰂—ingredient.

“W􏰐􏰛e are coming full􏰀-circle as a city,”􏰓 V􏰁alentino says.

Visit: The 􏰒Market is open 1􏰌0 a.m. to 6 p.m. 􏰒Monday through Sunday.
The Shed is open from 10􏰌 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 10􏰌 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. dallasfarmersmarket.org