Down on the farm

The Farmer's Market is finally turning a profit, and the city has plans to make it even better. So why isn't everyone happy?

"I was listening to a country radio station one Sunday afternoon, and they asked Tim McGraw what the toughest job he ever did was," Carolyn Lemley says. "And you know what he said? Picking tomatoes."

J.T. and Carolyn were high-school sweethearts. Now they've been married 32 years. There have been plenty of hardships along the way; 20 years of farming is bound to beget a few off years. But their work never stops. When it's 105 degrees in the summertime, they still work their stall. The fans surrounding them manage to produce a breeze, although in July and August it feels more like a blow-dryer aimed at your face. Seasoned Farmers Market veterans, the Lemleys at one point sold produce out of Shed Two, back when it was used for that purpose. Their opinion represents a cross-section of farmers at the market: They don't necessarily care what happens with Shed Two, so long as their $18/day stall (with discounts in the off-season) isn't interfered with.

Their main concern: "I think people that come down here should buy from the farmers," Lemley says. "A lot of people go to the dealers. The customers should try to support East Texas farmers. People that come down here this time of year should be looking for farm-fresh produce."

Natividad Ramirez sells eclectic Mexican furniture and gifts in Shed Two at his Rios Imports. He will more than likely be kicked out when the city finds a better-paying tenant.
Natividad Ramirez sells eclectic Mexican furniture and gifts in Shed Two at his Rios Imports. He will more than likely be kicked out when the city finds a better-paying tenant.
Carolyn Lemley and her husband J.T. have been selling tomatoes at the Farmers Market for 20 years. Like many other farmers, they're more concerned with their own clientele than with the politics of the market and Shed Two.
Carolyn Lemley and her husband J.T. have been selling tomatoes at the Farmers Market for 20 years. Like many other farmers, they're more concerned with their own clientele than with the politics of the market and Shed Two.

Miklis and the furniture and jewelry vendors in Shed Two definitely have more at stake, and several of them complain that there's poor communication between the city and tenants. Right now, with 16 vendors leasing 43 of 93 stalls, paying an average of $237.50/month per stall, Shed Two brings in roughly $10,000 a month for the city.

Why is Shed Two only half-full? The answer is that the market is slowly phasing out its type of tenants, particularly the furniture dealers. "I can't afford to have more furniture," Perales says. "What we're looking for is people who will be willing to sell some type of food products. We can fill the whole place up with furniture and make the money, but the way I see it, you don't come to a farmers market prepared to dish out thousands of dollars for a cabinet." Perales adds that the city isn't satisfied with the amount of money Shed Two is pulling in. Shed One consistently makes $350,000 a year.

"I cannot sell anything but produce and vegetables in sheds One, Three, and Four," Perales says. "I cannot. I can't sell flowers or anything else. I have to provide something different in Shed Two. I'm not about to fill the whole thing up with furniture."

Whoever takes over the city's heavily peddled Shed Two will have to sink a great deal of money into it, installing a climate-control system so meats and dairy won't go bad in the heat. Right now, according to Perales, Shed Two is essentially cheap warehousing. He wants to make it the center of attention so that the Farmers Market doubles its number of yearly patrons.


Change was inevitable for the Farmers Market after the release of a critical city audit in April 1999. For years, the market operated on a do-what-you-want policy concerning vendors. The consequences of laissez-faire management were laid out in the audit, which, in several places, employed harsh words. In summary, the report said that the Farmers Market was ambling along without a coherent marketing plan; it was essentially a loose configuration of farmers paying rent. Advertising and marketing were poor.

Concerning Shed Two, the report read: "Shed Two is a fully enclosed, 26,000-square-foot facility with restrooms and 62 potential retail stalls. Currently, the west half of the shed is used for special-event rentals. There are 30 stalls at the east end that are used for stall rentals as the International Market Place; however, only 21 stalls are being rented by 14 vendors. Dallas Farmers Market has not undertaken efforts to optimize the potential of the DFM Shed Two."

Since then, much has changed at the market. The same year the report came out, the market finally operated in the black after years of losses. The city attributes this change to good management, Wilhemina Boyd says--perhaps a bit self-servingly, since she and Perales came on board two years ago.

Both management and vendors make compelling points about the future of the hulking Shed Two and its contents. There's no simple way for the two sides to live in harmony, since both have completely different opinions of what would make the market great.

Natividad Ramirez, owner of Rios Imports, and James Barfoot, owner of the Lost Empire Trading Company, stand to lose the most if Shed Two is leased to a new bidder. Barfoot believes that, as a group, the Shed Two vendors have not been included in the bidding process. He and the International Marketplace Association, a group consisting of all 16 Shed Two vendors, say they'd like a chance to bid on the shed, all but guaranteeing that they could raise the $16,000-a-month minimum required by the city.

"We would like to invite John Loza [the city council member representing the area] to discuss our situation," Barfoot says. "Basically, I don't want to come across as a victim. I don't think that's the case. I think we have an unusual situation here that merits attention. We are a diverse group of merchants that offer the public something that is not contrived or formulaic. If you look at it, this is the way markets used to be, when people took the time to get to know the people they do business with. I really feel like furniture is an integral part of any market that has existed in any city square in the past."

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