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, farmfresh 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. Vendors set up shop first from horsedrawn wagons, and later from trucks—at the intersection of South Pearl and Cadiz streets. The first trading shed was established 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 cityowned and funded market.
Improvements—including additional sheds—happened intermittently over the next 70-plus years, but 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 Texas flair, you will get it at the Dallas Farmers Market,” says Emily Valentino, the venue’s director of market operations. “It’s truly a unique neighborhood now.
This change in atmosphere is recent. In 2013, Dallas sold a majority 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 Texas.
In June 2015 came perhaps the most important transition: The Dallas Farmers Market instituted a local-farmers-only policy.
“When it’s sold at the Shed, you know it’s from Texas,” Valentino 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 Amanda Vanhoozier, director of market operations, whose reputation for her work cultivating a neighborhood farmers market in the North Texas suburb of Coppell precedes her.
“We 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. “By creating this market for them, it allows more farms to get started. We’re trying to increase the number of farms in North Texas.”
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, but instead a smaller selection of top quality, seasonal, and diverse fruits and vegetables from smallscale farms that are dependent upon the weather.
“Farmers will only harvest what they can,” Vanhooier says. “They are working their fields, like a peach orchard farmer who is just growing peaches. But the great thing aout 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 be 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 incubator (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’ White Rock Granola (we love the ”Gorilla a Go Go” 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 by Dallas’ T-Rex Pickles. Dallasites love elotes, and glimmering corn is roasted and tossed in butter or cheese and crema onsite at the legendary Paul’s Sweet Roasted Corn.
Neet door is The Market, a 26,000-square-foot space that officially opened this past spring. With a San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace vibe, the lively indoor space holds dozens of boutiques, artisanal food purveyors, and restaurants, with more on the way. Residents of the neighborhood—officially dubbed the Dallas Farmers Market District can often be found grabbing 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. Mexican street tacos and other Dallas favorites, along with churros and margaritas can be found at Taqueria La Ventana. Fresh seafood can e found at Rex’s Seafood at the Market.
The Farmers Market also now boasts the first teaching garden within a national farmers market, sponsored y the American Heart Association. Mama Ida’s Teaching Garden—the name a tribute to Ida Papert, founder of advocacy group Dallas Farmers Market Friends—opened in 2015. It serves to educate school-age children on sustainable produce growth. Just across from The Market building is Mudhen Meat and Greens, founded by well-known Dallas restaurateur Shannon Wynne, which serves up healthful dishes based on seasonal produce.
“We are just getting it off the ground, but we have a good foundation and a very sustainable plan to move the market into the next 30 years,” Vanhoozier says. “But 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 Dallas’ thriving food, arts, and culture scenes. It is a long-missing—and much-welcomed—ingredient.
“We are coming full-circle as a city,” Valentino says.
Visit: The Market is open 10 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