Dallas Farmer's Market: Cut it Off at the Roots

It's time to admit the city-owned market is a failure.

Here's an idea. Nuke the Dallas Farmers Market. Seriously. Blow it up. Scrape it. Give the poor thing a decent burial, and then start from scratch.

Look at it. Everything about it says, "Dead on Arrival." Let's get real.

The homeless issue at the market is by no means the central problem or the root cause of anything, but it's symptomatic of everything else that's wrong. If that part of downtown were strong, the homeless issue would be a mild head cold. As it is, it's double pneumonia.

Jen Sorensen

Last week I get a call from a guy who works in the Dallas Farmers Market tipping me that the cops are rousting homeless people when they try to walk through the market on their way from one mission to the next.

He says the homeless are trying to take a shortcut through the market from The Bridge, the city's big homeless center on Corsicana Street, to a shelter on Hickory Street southeast of the market. But the cops and private market security are making them detour and walk around the market along an unpaved shoulder on a freeway ramp.

Yup. I go down there and watch. That's exactly what they're doing. I watch while the cops try to get Jeffrey Edmondson, a 52-year-old American citizen with a backpack, to understand that he's not allowed to walk through the market, where the other American citizens are allowed to walk.

By the time I catch up with him, Edmondson is trudging along a narrow path next to the East R.L. Thornton access ramp. He has wary, untrusting, rescue-dog eyes, but he talks. He tells me they told him he couldn't go through the market. They didn't tell him it was because he was homeless, but he says he assumes that's why.

"I don't think it's fair," he says, then turns and trudges on along his way.

That sucks.

But, wait. Ten minutes later I'm inside one of the big warehouses that the cops are parked in front of at the corner of St. Louis and South Hall streets, talking to Jim Ingendorf, proprietor of Pro Deuce Services, a refrigerated storage and produce supply company.

The Ingendorfs have been in business in the market area for a long time. They own land, do business, pay taxes. "I'm not against the homeless," he says, but the criminal, addicted and psychotic populations mingled among them have tanked the value of his property since The Bridge opened in 2008.

"I carry a pistol, and I'm up here in the building," Ingendorf says. "I'm not sure of any of them."

He knows why the cops are parked out front of his building. "It's probably to keep me quiet," he says. He's done a lot of complaining. So would I, in his shoes.

It's all Band-Aids and rouge on a pig. The cops are in a hopeless position. So is Ingendorf. So are the homeless. Everybody is trying to survive in a situation that's basically not survivable. What has to change is the whole situation.

Here is this huge parcel, a good 25 acres of land right next to the city's business center, and in terms of the use it's being put to, it's a total dismal failure. The so-called Farmers Market runs hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole every year; every attempt the city makes to jazz it up seems to wind up making it worse; and there is absolutely no vision or plan to make it any better.

So nuke it. Recognize reality. Scrape it. But then don't let City Hall piecemeal those acres out into a bunch of half-assed slum-of-the-future condos that some city councilperson is pushing for his or her church to build.

Turn it over to somebody who will build something iconic there, something that will change the ground forever. The only way to make things better is the long shot.

I feel sorry for the homeless. I hate seeing human beings told they can't walk among the rest of us. But there is also a harsh reality here. They walk into places they perceive as penetrable. Put something very big and busy there, and you won't have to tell them to walk around. They'll do it on their own.

I spent some time last week talking to Tom "Spiceman" Spicer, the specialty broker whose shop at 1410 Fitzhugh Ave. is Mecca to high-end chefs and epicures seeking the very best in locally grown produce. Spicer has an intimate, complex understanding of the wiring between farmers and end-point consumers in the Dallas food marketplace.

He says nuke it, too. Spicer says the universe of food is changing too fast and the machinery of City Hall is too slow. Everything the city tries to do will always fall short.

"It's too little, too late," he says. "I wish it wasn't so. We missed the boat."

The irony is that the forces at play in the universe of food would seem augur well for a farmers market. Other cities do well with them. Farmers markets are burgeoning everywhere from Santa Fe to Detroit. Just not ours.

Spicer says farmers markets are doing well here, just not the one downtown owned by the city. He's right. They're popping up all over the 'burbs and out in city neighborhoods.

One of my favorites is the White Rock Local Market held on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month at Buckner Boulevard and Northcliff Drive near White Rock Lake. It burgeons and burgeons!

But for a long time the city was doing every thing it could to stymie this and other satellite markets. In the city council debates, you could hear all the usual arguments working up to the surface like bad-smelling bubbles. One theory was that the neighborhood markets were going to steal market-share from the downtown market.

What market share? What's the market share in slow death? Slower death?

Some of the arguments echoed the city's ancient racial agony — that the neighborhood market thing was all about a bunch of elitists who didn't want to venture into downtown.

C'mon. What's an elitist? Somebody who doesn't want to get cornered by a crackhead while walking to his car? Call me Lord Fauntleroy.

For a while the paradigm looked like it was going to be stubbornly white and black, with locally grown organic produce as a white thing. But that paradigm was pretty effectively blown apart by Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, a historically African-American school in far southern Dallas.

Sorrell is leading Paul Quinn toward becoming a center of leadership and innovation in local organic production, destroying the myth that healthy food is only for white folks. His work at Paul Quinn, like the growing success of the White Rock Market, is evidence that the farmers market phenomenon is migrating out to where it wants to be. And that's not in a big lumbering facility run by the city designed to serve an industrial model that died about 25 years ago.

Another guy I have talked to a little about this in recent weeks is Robin McCaffrey, a principal in the Mesa Design Group, hired by a consortium of property owners around the market to help develop strategy for the area's future.

When I ran my idea of a low-yield nuclear device by him, he seemed unenthusiastic, but he did say the idea of an iconic redevelopment from the ground up has actually been around for some time.

He sent me a brochure for a design that Mesa did in the early '90s for Northrup Properties in collaboration with the famed Jim Rouse of Baltimore, guru of "festival marketplace" redevelopments like Faneuil Hall in Boston and the South Street Seaport in New York City.

Oh, my God. What could have been. I notice the brochure says the anticipated completion for a proposed 80-acre project around the market was 1996 — six years before Laura Miller was elected mayor. Wow, a lot of water has not gone over the damn since then, eh?

McCaffrey didn't buy my idea of totally annihilating the market downtown. He said it would be better to "preserve a market element" in a redevelopment of the district rather than give up entirely on the area's historical identity.

So, OK. Using a nuclear device probably wouldn't be legal, anyway. I never went to urban redevelopment school, so how would I know?

But you get my drift, right? Why keep flogging this poor beleaguered horse thinking the whip will turn it into a derby winner? The kinder thing would be to walk the old dear down to the glue factory and let them put a bullet in her head.

There is never again going to be a big successful central farmers market owned by the city in downtown Dallas. It's over. Gone. We might as well try to build stables and a buggy whip factory down there.

We need to do something new with the land that will transform that part of downtown. Get the land values back up and allow the warehouse owners to sell and escape. Keep some kind of cute little neighborhood market in there if necessary. Nuke the rest.

You were asking? Put what there? What's my big idea for a transformational project? Well, I don't really work in the transformational department. I'm more in the nuke department.

But let's put our thinking caps on. A new football stadium, perhaps? Nah. Horse already gone from barn.

I know I talked bad about the low-rise condos creeping into the area already from the periphery. But you know what could really make Dallas a totally different place? A high-rise affordable village where tons of young wage-earners could live, shop, dine and do those other things they do. I forget what that is, exactly, but I know what we don't have downtown. Bodies.

That's just one idea. I'm trying to stave off the other one that always comes up when you talk about land-use in Dallas: How about we do a Soviet-scale high-end shopping mall full of rich white people surrounded by massive walls and gun turrets?

How about not? Let's do something different for a change — something that doesn't have both feet firmly planted in the concrete of yesteryear.

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32 comments
S Gonzales
S Gonzales

I grew up on an 'urban-type farm', so I was lucky to have fresh, seasonal food. I've sold at growers' markets, been a customer, and helped run them. I can say from experience that the Dallas Farmers' Market is the worst market I've ever been to...and not just due to the homeless population. I've come to expect that a farmers' market will contain local, seasonal food. Dallas market vendors are a mixed bag - some vendors are local and wonderful, others are selling bananas, mangos and pineapples...give me a break. That place is a disgrace to what a growers' market should be and I tell everyone that's interested in it to find another 'true' growers' market.

Natz
Natz

Are you for real? The whole point of a farmers market is to bring that fresh local produce in (the main part of the Dallas farmers market considers its local vendors to be within 150 miles of the city) because realistically most of us "city folk" can't drive an hour+ for fresh groceries. The whole point is the stuff in the regular grocery store DOES suck and there isn't often a big selection; that's why the farmers market is nice to have around. "It never occurs to me to go to the city." Obviously, people who live out by the farms aren't going to drive IN to Dallas to get that stuff. That's not who the farmers market is for. There are a lot of people who can't grow their own veggies becase they can't afford a home with a yard. Not everyone has the resources to live in a place where they can get everything awesome all the time and still be employed. The city=jobs, and the city=apartments for young people who can't afford their own property. Having a place like the farmers market is great for us.

Wilcatbai
Wilcatbai

I feel for the homeless also but I think the farmers should have a place to sell their produce. I go there often and the biggest problem I see is there are too much vendors that are not farmers

Santorum Hates
Santorum Hates

How about a stringy thing bridge with solar powered buggies.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

We can go two routes with this, both involving the implosion of the current Farmers Market:

A: Design an build a "Seattle Public Market"-style of development, which is to say a mix of traditional vendors (fruit/veg/meats/ect.) with smaller indie retail and mom and pop eateries/outdoor bars

B: Build out a "LA Farmers Market" development w/ mixed upscale retail(sur la table, potterybarn, world market) along w/ the traditional.

Both would benefit Dallas better now than the current setup, which has become a den of factory farms who jack up their prices at a whim and engage in pressure sales consistantly..

Perry Moore
Perry Moore

Why is the city in the produce business? If I want fresh produce, I go down the road to the produce stand, right next to the farmer's house, and right in front of the field where the stuff is grown. It never occurs to me to go to the city. Then again, I'm not a big city kind of guy. No room for a decent vegetable garden, and all you get at the grocery is tasteless tomatoes. Maybe the city should open an organic homeless person stand, because that's what seems to grow best in urban areas.

cp
cp

I have to agree with Jim, just torch the place already. He's right about the 25-year-old industrial model that the DFM is based on. How's Mayor Mary doing with the privatization deal?

Zach
Zach

Here's my revitalization plan:-Open the market only on the weekends and maybe one afternoon/evening a week.-Only allow produce vendors to sell produce grown within a 100 miles of Dallas-Designate shed 3 or 4 for food trucks- an easy way to increase prepared food options, and attract food truck patrons to the market-Add cooking demonstrations. There are already cooking classes w/ area chefs organized.This will show people how to use their newly bought food and make it more of an experience to go to the market.-Increase the scope and awareness of special market days which apparently already exist but I can't say I've ever heard about them...

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Is it really that hard to figure out?

NOBODY'S DRIVING DOWNTOWN TO GO TO A FARMER'S MARKET.

From my house to there, there's another farmer's market in East Dallas, plus a Central Market and 2 Whole Foods stores. I can't justify the drive.

crys41
crys41

Forgive me for not knowing, but why exactly do the homeless have to walk from one shelter to another... and whose bright idea was it to build "The Bridge" right next to the Farmers Market anyways?

And why does it look like some of those "fresh from the farm" trucks haven't moved in 10+ years?

Reddykilowatt
Reddykilowatt

The problem is not the Farmers Market. Building "something iconic' on the same ground will only mean the cops will have to steer the crackheads and winos around "something iconic" instead of the Farmers Market. You want the solution? Close every liquor store, wine, and beer seller within 5 miles of downtown. Close every crackhouse within 10 miles. Or if that's too difficult, just re-task the cops and private security out front to steer the homeless away from those "businesses". Of course, if they buy less than $50 of booze or crack at a time, they'll have to let them through because it's too much trouble to enforce for not enough convictions.

Paul
Paul

First off it is not a "farmer's market". Every time I go all I see are the same vendors there every time that are selling the same underripe/overripe produce in the cute little baskets with the false bottoms. Sometimes you can find local produce, but the fact of the matter some of these vendors have been there so long that their storage trailers have flat tires and have sunk into the pavement.

The attitude of many of the vendors reminds me of State Fair Midway "skill game" operators. You are not quite sure what is going on, but you know that the game is rigged.

The other problem is that with all of the street realignments in the area, it is very difficult to actually get to the market and find a place to park.

Restaurantqualityblender
Restaurantqualityblender

Now apply this story/reality to the soon to be finished, amazin', superfragiliciousexpialadocious above ground park...1000 fold.

Myrna Minkoff-Katz
Myrna Minkoff-Katz

The problem is the Market itself. Too much overripe or underripe produce being sold at too high of a price.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

I agree with the sentiment of moving it to the West End. Think about it. It would then be very close to the DART rail lines. Personally, I avoid the Dallas Farmer's Market because it involves driving to downtown. If I could ride DART rail to it, I would probably go at least once a month.

bobbyv
bobbyv

The market should have been moved to the West End years ago. It would have revived the market and the West End. It's not too late.

Triptup
Triptup

really? you are asking Tom Spicer for his opinion??? he's as loony as most of the mentally ill homeless.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Dallas -can't you do anything right? Every time there is yet another story of failure.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

You're pushing affordable housing next to The Bridge, and you're calling condos future slums?

Montemalone
Montemalone

A smaller version of the present FM that only sells local produce would be fine, instead of the current setup with vendors peddling the same things they have at Kroger, for twice the price. A few blocks of City Houses (single family homes on 25-30 ft wide lots) would bring people down that don't want to live in an apartment. Just let it become another neighborhood. Lot's of World Class cities have business districts adjacent to residential areas.

dallasmay
dallasmay

Yeah, if we kill the old Farmers Market and build something new and great we'll finally be World Class, right?

Or, uh, wait....

guest
guest

Both city hall and the present managment at DFM are to blame. ASK THE VENDORS!!!

AuntieCairo
AuntieCairo

The problem is the city manager is sitting on $6 million that was earmarked to upgrade the Farmers Market - the problem lies at City Hall - perhaps they want it to fail to resell to some of the business insiders who always seems to profit from whomever the business friendly mayor of the day is. I also think City Hall is focusing on the South Side of the City to promote the new hotel, etc. Either way it's ridiculous Dallas doesn't promote and upgrade it's Farmers Market - with the current popularity of food trucks, healthy eating, and people moving closer to downtown -- the fact the Market is a failure points to some unknown agenda - which is business as usual in Dallas.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Wow. You are right.

The only two possible options in the entire world of option are to copy Seattle or copy LA.

Alyssa G
Alyssa G

The second point is key. The fact that there are signs on some of the stalls that specify which food is local is a joke. It's a farmer's market - if I wanted produce of an unknown origin, I wouldn't go downtown for it.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Most homeless shelters don't permit people to stay there during the day. This allows staff time to clean the place. Plus, it is not supposed to become a free home for people.

cp
cp

Agreed.

Robert Kelly
Robert Kelly

hater. he's a good guy and does his job better than most. We should all be so lucky.

cp
cp

Read more closely to what Jim actually wrote. He's talking about "condos" (apartments) that some on the city council want out of their South Dallas neighborhoods.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Mark it.

January 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm. I finally agree with something that Montemalone posted.

And OU still sucks.

cp
cp

don't you mean "H8r"?

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

The problem is still the same. Housing right next to the Bridge is a bad idea, and layering in federal affordable housing probably makes it worse.

 
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