Why Dallas Doesn't Have More Farmers Markets
Almost two years ago, when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to move to Dallas and devote my life to writing about burgers and Reuben sandwiches, I sat in my old office in Falls Church, Virginia, and looked at Google maps. I've been fascinated with maps since I was a kid, and having access to them digitally online only fostered the obsession. I loved that I could use a mouse to manipulate the pictures and actually explore the streets of a city I've never visited before.
How Dallas Killed Farmers Markets
I found my new apartment and "walked" to my office. I mapped a course from my office to downtown and wondered what it would be like to ride a bicycle on the streets of Dallas. That's when I scrolled over the Dallas Farmers Market and thought, "Yeah, I can do this."
From a digitally generated 30,000-foot view, the Dallas Farmers Market looked huge. "Everything really is bigger in Texas," I thought, as I imagined massive sheds filled with fresh local produce and thousands of shoppers walking around and planning a Saturday afternoon meal.
The market was one of the first places I visited after I arrived. I met Alice Laussade at Pecan Lodge for what turned out the be the best brisket I've ever tasted. Shed 2 didn't look all that great in my opinion, but who cared? Farmers markets aren't about the façade, they're about the heart and soul that goes into growing beautiful ingredients.
There were no beautiful ingredients on that random weekday, though. And a subsequent visit on the weekend only compounded my fears that Dallas Farmers Market, while quite large, actually kind of sucked.
Remember, this was two summers ago, when Nick Rallo was baking cookies on his dashboard and I spent many nights huddled up in a dark apartment convinced the apocalypse was coming. "It's too hot here," I rationalized, my hopes for a great farmers market fading because I thought the climate here just couldn't support them.
A trip to Austin changed that. Austin is even hotter, yet it has markets filled with local produce, dairy and meats. Houston has a growing farmers market scene too, and then there's Coppell, just a few miles north of Dallas, which manages to fill table after table with fresh kale, collards, beets and cheese from local dairies. Then I found Sarah Perry's White Rock Local Market and was so impressed I gave it Best Farmers Market in last year's Best of Dallas issue.
Still, something was off. The markets in Dallas (even Sarah's) didn't seem as vibrant as those I was used too. There weren't many of them in other neighborhoods and the number of farmers participating seemed low. As I talked to some of the farmers, organizers and shoppers, I slowly learned that Dallas' crippled farmers-market scene had nothing to do with climate or seasonality and a lot to do with City Hall.
This week's cover story describes the history of the downtown Farmers Market from its heyday in the '80s to the recent state of failure that led the city to offload the property to private developers. It was during that privatization effort that a group of city employees drafted a restrictive neighborhood farmers market ordinance aimed in part at protecting the market downtown. That ordinance has stifled the growth of farmers markets in Dallas and held us behind as the rest of the country adds thousands of markets a year.
Hopefully, now that the Dallas Farmers Market is a private business, the restrictions on neighborhood farmers markets will change. It's the right thing to do. Dallas prides itself on being a city that's great for small businesses to get a foothold and grow. Shouldn't the same be true for nonprofit organizations aimed at stimulating local economy and providing access to high-quality food?