Community Farmers Market Owners Ready to Organize as City Hall Mulls Over Regulations

Just last month we mentioned the city's proposal for regulating neighborhood farmers markets -- another bright idea from what Jim likes to call the Municipal Ministry of Food Production. For those who need some catchin'-up, the city wants to make sure the smaller markets, like those at Celebration and at White Rock Local Market, "are complimentary to downtown farmers market." By which the city means limiting the number of markets ("No more than 10 neighborhood markets will be permitted each year"), establishing where they can be held (three miles from Dallas Farmers Market and three miles from each other) and when they can take place ("limited to 24 times per year [and] not to exceed 6 hours per occurrence").

That's for starters. You can read the all the proposed rules and regulations here.

Which is why, tonight at Celebration, organizers of some of the smaller Dallas farmers markets, and the vendors who sell their wares there, are gathering to discuss what to do next.

"We need to be better organized, to be more aware of what everyone else is doing -- to be connected," says Celebration's Leah Ferraro. "Hopefully we can share ideas and information. That's the No. 1 reason we decided to do it. But we decided it would be a good time to start a guild or organization. I've talked to Susan [Pollard] at the Texas Honeybee Guild about this, gosh, for at least a year, but this was a galvanizing force that pushed us to be better organized and get to know everyone out there. It feels so new in Dallas. It's not, but it feels so new, and I hate to see it stopped in its tracks."

When I spoke with Ferraro this morning, she chose her words carefully -- she's not looking to pick a fight with City Hall or Farmers Market Administrator Jenel Leatherman, who declined an invitation to tonight's meeting. Matter of fact, Ferraro says, sure, there are plenty of people who think City Hall's trying to protect its investment in the downtown market by squeezing out the smaller markets, but she isn't one of them. Her only fear is that the proposed regulations are awfully "shortsighted."

"A lot of vendors here and and at White Rock are downtown too," she says. "It's another way to get their product out there. The people who come to White Rock and here and the other markets come up pushing strollers, riding bikes. It's a great community event for these people, and they get out of it great local food. And I go downtown all the time. Celebration buys thousands of dollars in produce downtown every week. We don't want to see the downtown market fail. We've all put a lot into it -- tax payers, city leaders, the vendors. It's not about that. ...

"If you get people interested in the idea of shopping and eating locally and you're in the neighborhood of another market and decide to stop in, that's great. I go downtown all the time, and you see different things at different markets, and there are different vibes at different markets. People congregate and talk. It's what Dallas seems to be missing -- that sense of community -- and you get it at these local markets."

One thing Ferraro does take issue with: the limits on how often the smaller markets can set up shop.

"Why can't we do it every week?" she says. "We're not trying to force people to eat local. But if people want to come every week, why can't they? Why once a month? If it's not about competition -- and I wish we could get through that it's not ... My fear is they haven't paid attention to other cities or are stuck in the bureaucracy."

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