Vegan 101: Dallas/FortWorth Message Board › The Local Myth: What you're really buying at The Dallas Farmers Market

The Local Myth: What you're really buying at The Dallas Farmers Market

A former member
Post #: 9

What follows is an essay I'm reposting from my blog. For audio version, click here.

Dear Eco-Nutri-Vegan Locavores,

There's something rotten at The Dallas Farmers Market. I am talking about outright deception - lockbox disinformation. I am going to tell you something you're not going to like hearing at all: The Dallas Farmer's Market is mostly a phantasm. Today you are going to learn something truly disturbing about this seemingly great place and get some tips on making the most of your next trip.

The Myth of Locality
There are something like fifty vendors at the DFM on any given day. A third of these are wholesalers, so toss those out, and you're left with something like 30-35 retail produce vendors.

"Finally, I've arrived at my bucolic utopia!" Plastered all over the buildings are phrases like "Best [insert fruit or vegetable]'s in Texas!" or "Locally grown [again, insert whatever] in town!" My GOD I'm so excited! I disembark my eco-friendly bike, shrug off my organic hemp shopping bag, and venture forth like a Christian entering Heaven for the first time...just replace Saint Peter with a highly rotund Humpty Dumpty looking "security guard" and you've gotten within an ace of envisioning my experience entering the market.

And boy, were my dreams of bountiful cornucopias made true! Luscious strawberries, pink grapefruit, blackberries. I saw apples and bananas and okra and kiwis and...wait a minute...back up there, did I just see a basket of kiwi fruits? I could have sworn I'd once read somewhere that kiwi only grows in colder climates. A bit odd, sure, but sheesh look at the size and color of these grapefruits and oranges? Uh oh, there's another anomaly: oranges grow in Texas, sure, but according to the Texas Department of Agriculture's website, they grow best far, far south in the Rio Grande Valley. At this point I came to a screeching halt. I thought, "What is going on here?"

"Locally grown" does not suffer, it seems, from a universally adopted definition. South Texas could be nearly a thousand miles away, depending on just where the hell those oranges were actually grown. I started back down the aisle looking more closely at the produce in front of me. Awfully similar looking to the stuff on the shelves at Wal-Mart. I finally found a smoking gun: a banana where someone had forgotten to peel the label off. It read, "Chiquita, a product of Mexico". My heart sank, my amygdala flared up, and I decided to get some answers. I approached several vendors and asked them directly, "Where exactly in Texas were these fruits and vegetables grown?" What I mostly received were blank stares, elliptical avoidance of the question, or a wave of the hand and a statement like, "somewhere in west Texas I think."

Finally, I met a real farmer named Big Joe. He works for a farm called the Heddin Family Farm. Their crops are grown in Canton, TX, which is about an hour and a half drive east of Dallas between Rockwall and Greenville. Thankfully, he operates four stalls and has an enormous variety of produce (not so much fruit). I asked him about the other vendors and he waved his hand and laughed. "None of them are really local farmers. They buy wholesale or truck it in from California. How in the hell do you grow a pineapple in this climate?"

Big Joe mentioned that his colleague next to him (Little John is his name) are both local farmers. Little John's farm is located somewhere near Cleburne I think. Between the two of them I filled a bag with an enormous quantity of fruit and vegetables - too much really - but I was so thrilled and thankful for their honest claims to local farming that I wanted to give them as much money as possible. Speaking of money:

Spending Money at a Farmers Market
Let's review what I purchased and how much it cost:

2 Yellow Onions
1 Cantaloupe
1.5 lbs Blackberries
1 lb Cherry Tomatoes
3 lbs Beefsteak Tomatoes
8 Sweet Potatoes
1/4 lb Green Beans
1 pint mixture of Lima Beans and Black-eyed Peas
5 lbs of red potatoes

Total Purchase Cost: $26.00

Anyone who shops regularly for produce at Whole Foods just had a stroke at how low that number is. Here's why - this is one of those tips I promised to give you: I haggle kindly for a discount. Find a single vendor (like Big Joe or Little John) and buy everything you want from him. Let him see the big pile of food he's about to sell you and then ask him how much it costs. You can typically respond with something like, "I'm on a tight budget and would appreciate a discount since I shopped with you exclusively." In every case I have tried this I received a discount ranging from 10-30% off the originally stated price. Both parties win too, since he got to sell a great deal of highly perishable inventory and you got a discount.

Here are a couple other points that will help you save money and have a better experience:

1. Ignore the pre-sorted wooden bins the vendors have sitting out and customize your order quantity. Vendors are intentionally (and rationally) trying to get your mind to think, "the smallest quantity I can purchase is this whole basket of green beans." The vendors will always quote prices in round lots or "numbers of baskets". For example, Big Joe told me the blueberries were 3 dollars for each basket or 2 dollars if I bought two baskets. I told him I'd like only half a basket. After a couple of seconds he said, "Okay, let me figure out that reduced price for you."

2. Shop on weekday evenings, especially Monday and Tuesday nights. The vendors are desperately trying to sell the quickly ripening produce left over from the weekend traffic and are often willing to give large discounts (our outright give you free food) if you offer to take the food off their hands. You'll have the most success using this tactic if you inquire about fruits and veggies with short shelf lives: Blackberries, tomatoes, strawberries, bananas, lettuce, etc...they aren't so motivated to discount the potatoes or corn because those have a long shelf life and will survive the week.

All in all, I enjoy and cherish shopping at the Dallas Farmers Market. It is very discouraging to see so much blatant deception, but if you shop with Big Joe and Little John, you can rest assured your products are indeed locally grown by real farmers. Why is local farming so important? Three words: fossil fuel emissions. If a farm in west Texas wants to sell product in Dallas, you've got to figure the environmental cost of trucking so much food (probably in a refrigeration truck) such a long distance. With Canton being only an hour and a half away, a shopper is mitigating the environmental impact of their purchases as much as possible. The only drawback with Big Jim and Little John is that they do not grow their food according to the specific rules for organic farming but hell, you can't have everything. I have met these guys a few times, and every time I tell them they'd attract a bigger audience if they got their standards up to earn the organic designation.

I hope you have benefited from this essay, enjoyed the commentary, and learned what to avoid and how to save money at The Dallas Farmers Market.

user 9828093
Haslet, TX
Post #: 1
Thanks for the great write up! I worked in produce for many years, and I always try to tell people that most everything at the Dallas Farmers Market is no better or any different than what you would buy at Kroger or Tom Thumb or any other regular grocery store. Not local. Not organic. Just walking around getting free samples can be worth the trip, though!
A former member
Post #: 40
Wow, this is quite an eye opener.
A former member
Post #: 1
I knew it! So glad someone wrote an article about this. Dallas Farmers Market seemed a little shady the last time I was there. I didn't haggle and wound up with alot of conventional grown fruit that seemed to be the same price as organic at whole foods. I will go check out the guys you suggested for fruits and veggies that are ok to be eaten and not organic. Organic seeds aren't that much more expensive. I have an organic veggie farm in the country and it's extremely inexpensive.

Thanks for the info!!
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