A Sneak Peek at Today's Neighborhood Farmers Market Council Briefing

Schutze, who loves this subject, is out of town. Otherwise he'd be at Dallas City Hall at 2 today for the meeting of the council's Transportation and Environment Committee, during which they'll discuss how to regulate neighborhood farmers markets. (Also on the agenda, landscaping N. Central Expressway, which didn't get discussed at March 8 meeting.) We'll have someone there -- as will the neighborhood markets, some of whom are kinda, sorta OK with city staff's proposal and some of whom find it "not impressive," in the words of one market organizer with whom I spoke this morning.

The briefing contains four pages' worth of recommendations, which city staff says it's making after meetings with market organizers, farmers, growers, vendors and neighborhood groups. (These discussions have been taking place since December's TEC briefing.) Organizers and neighborhood groups wanted to be able to open markets at least once a week; their vendors had hoped for twice that number. City staff, hoping to protect the downtown farmers market, wants to limit the number to 24 "non-consecutive" days per year.

Which is fine with Bruce Bagelman, owner of the Green Spot and one of the organizers of the White Rock Local Market, which is only open every other week anyway, if that. "There are certain months of the year when there's not much produce, like the winter months," he tells Unfair Park. "That's something I personally can live with." So too Leah Ferraro at the Celebration market -- though she says "the demand is there for a weekly market, and we want to be able to supply that."

Bagelman and Ferraro are satisfied with most of the suggestions; the White Rock organizer says the list looks like a decent "compromise," and he's more than fine with the recommendation that "at least half of vendors should be farmers/growers or other food items." But the two do have a real problem with at least one of the proposed recommendations.

Both market organizers aren't fond of the city staff suggestion that would force "vendors selling potentially hazardous foods (such as meat, dairy products or cut produce)" to get a temporary food vendor permit, which, Ferraro says, costs $125 through the health department. Neighborhood market organizers want City Hall to explain why their vendors have to pay for something they don't demand at Dallas Farmers Market.

"And if they don't do that downtown, why are they all of the sudden imposing that on us?" says Ferraro. "Paula Lambert -- she's got a very successful business, people love to see her at our market, they love the cheese, and now she's worried about being able to do business [here]. These are all small businesses, and it worries me they're looking at dollar-for-dollar: This is how much the city's charging to impose restrictions, so this is how much they need to recoup."

Bagelman says he doesn't even know what a temporary food vendor permit is -- or why someone who sells prepackaged food that's already been regulated, like the Mozzarella Company, would need a second permit to sell at a neighborhood market. "That issue needs some clarification," he says.

The thing is: The city says it's actually going to lose money regulating these small businesses. From the briefing, "Permits will generate about $16,500 per year for City which will only partially cover City cost to implement program."

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