Down on the farm

Stan Miklis farm -- and its future, it seems -- lies somewhere between Fate and Poetry. Halfway between these two tiny burgs, in Royse City, Miklis owns and harvests his 100-acre stretch of land. In this farm-rich area, cattle and horses graze and lazily canter amidst prairie grass, juxtaposed nicely with crops stretching upward toward a hot Texas sun.

Miklis' farm, however, is virtually animal-free, save for a pond full of largemouth bass; his once-stray dog named Little Dump, short for Dumpling; and a curious (and copious) flock of pink plastic flamingoes. This particular farm is the one responsible for the area's sweet smell, cloaking the surrounding fields with the effervescent aroma of fresh flowers.

The old dirt road leading to Miklis' modest, rather peculiar three-toned farmhouse is rough, and the weather is often turbulent in this enclave of East Texas, but this is still some of the prettiest countryside between Lake Tawakoni and Dallas.

Not everything is rolling fields and pretty blossoms for Miklis these days, however. At 6 a.m. one day in June, right about the time many farmers were beginning their daily mowing and harvesting routines, Miklis sat atop a wrought-iron picnic table and stared blankly at the now-vacant trellises that should have been teeming with colorful perennials and annuals. The smell was still there, but the color wasn't. Miklis, dressed for labor in a black cotton shirt with the sleeves and collar ripped off, a pair of faded blue jeans, and leather workboots, looked clear through his weathered pick-up truck and the BMW Z3 parked next to it, sporting an odd "Stan 79" license plate that complemented his even odder, mostly purple farmhouse.

"It's over," he said dejectedly. "I'm out. It's over."

Miklis was reacting to an article in that day's Dallas Morning News. Splashed across the front of the Metropolitan page was the headline "City cultivates plans for Farmers Market. Developer is sought to add coffee shops, cafes." While the city's bold plans for the market are good news for the new crop of young, professional downtown loft dwellers, who have nowhere to shop for groceries, as far as Miklis is concerned, the city might as well have firebombed his small flower shop in the parking lot of Shed Two.

Caliper Flowers, so named because Caliper means substance and sounds like Excalibur--Miklis is a medieval buff--has occupied this corner of the Dallas Farmers Market for the last seven years. Miklis makes a modest living from his flowers, enough to support himself, his 15-year-old son, and his ex-wife. But as any farmer is quick to point out, the actual pursuit of harvesting crops, raising animals, and cultivating flowers, coupled with the discipline of waking up every morning at cock's crow and hauling a payload from rural Texas some 30-odd miles to downtown Dallas by the morning light, is not the easiest way to make a buck. Miklis doesn't punch out at the end of the day; he continually monitors weather, soil conditions, competitors, prices. It is these factors that drive the ups and downs in a farmer's life.

Because of the downs, Miklis lost his marriage. Now he fears he'll lose his shop, his livelihood.

Shed Two, situated at the center of the Farmers Market, is now the "International Market Place." It has walls and doors, unlike sheds One and Three, and giant ceiling fans to stir the otherwise stale air. The main commerce here is furniture, exotic pieces from parts of the world that Ethan Allen hasn't conquered yet. China, India, Mexico, and much more: huge, unpainted armoires that are sold new but have that turn-of-the-century look, along with mirrors encased in hand-painted, pressed tin. The stuff is often unique, and it's also a real bargain.

The city's vision for the market definitely isn't celebrated here. What initially raised hackles among these tenants was the threat of a takeover by Dallas businessman Joe Jansen. Right now, the city owns and operates the entire market, including Shed Two, leasing space to the vendors and farmers. Jansen was dealing with city and market officials to revamp the large, half-empty Shed Two, creating within it a world market in the image of the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle, host to some nine million visitors a year.

But Jansen is not just any old businessman with a plan for profit--at least not in the eyes of anyone with a stake in the Farmers Market. Jansen is the owner of Dallas' Goody Goody liquor-store chain. And considering the fact that Dallas' Champs-Elysées for winos is but a couple of blocks south, people were understandably concerned that the market might turn into a mall for drunks and drifters.

Jansen and the city assured everyone that just because he owned seven liquor stores, that didn't necessarily mean he planned to open up a Goody Goody in Shed Two. Even so, the mere threat sent people reeling. For his part, Miklis, who serves as the information clearinghouse for many tenants, cried bloody murder. He and some other Shed Two tenants believed they'd been betrayed by the city.

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Adam Pitluk
Contact: Adam Pitluk