It was very quiet Monday morning at the Dallas Farmers Market. Even though the historical downtown market is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday mornings are always quiet, the best time to come and buy from area farmers, according to one vendor. A person can drive right into a covered shed, park in the shade, sample, buy and be gone within minutes if necessary. What could be more convenient?
But, it’s also a little sad. Only a handful of local farmers occupy Shed 1 on Monday mornings. Even the commercial shed across the way is only partly full. Parking availability at the 13-acre site is abundant. The bonus of going to the market on an “off-day” is that the vendors have time to talk; and they are more than eager to press samples upon strolling visitors. “Melon, ma’am?” “Have a piece of peach?” “How about a strawberry, sir?” “Best plum you’ll ever taste – sweet and juicy!” “Corn is great; white kernels; six for $2!” “Want to try some local honey?”
Farmers at the city-owned and operated market, which was established in 1941, however, are visibly, and vocally, concerned about the future. The continued existence of the market has been in jeopardy for several years now. The market has been losing money, lots of money, for a long time; more than $250,000 just the first three months of this fiscal year, according to the City of Dallas, which has said, in effect, “enough is enough.” A Request for Proposals for some sort of private ownership and development of the site went out last spring, with a bid award possible this month.
There is a unique aura associated with any public market operating in the shadow of a large city skyline, as the Dallas market does. Seattle’s Pike Place Market comes to mind, which in addition to being a prime tourist attraction is part of the lifeblood of the entire city, with ever popular restaurants and its superb flower market as well as the fresh fish and produce for area restaurants and families.
In the same spirit, the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington, D.C., simply known as the Wharf, is an economic staple and a cultural phenomenon in that city, drawing visitors who enjoy the spectacle as much as they benefit from the products. Both enrich the lives of their cities.
Why, then, the decline in popularity of the Dallas market?
Local weekend farmers markets, with special events ranging from cooking demonstrations to band concerts to face-painting and puppet shows for the kids, are gaining a large following and attracting loyal customers throughout the growing season in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Fresh produce cooperatives, community gardens and backyard gardens are increasingly popular.
This week, August 5 through 11, marks National Farmers Market Week. Throughout the country, thriving local markets have planned special events. In Dallas, however, nothing has been planned.
Walking by the stalls this morning, one could only hope that there might be a solution coming which will preserve for the city of Dallas the kind of market that would make its founders proud. This week, especially, it would be nice to envision another 70 years of life ahead for a grand old institution.
For additional information about the market, click here.