10 Questions: Rocky Tassioni

On Sunday, April 19, the Dallas Farmer's Market Friends will host a roundtable discussion of the "buying local" concept and its challenges.

Tassioni knows these all too well. Since 1997, he and his wife have operated a hydroponic farm (Tassione Farm) near Stephenville, growing specialty greens and herbs. They deliver to 23 area restaurants and hotels, which keeps them busy enough. But they've also tried, with little success, to profit from the Farmer's Market.

The roundtable starts at 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Farmer's Market Resource Center (1010 S. Pearl Expressway). It includes a select panel of top chefs and local farmers--including Tassioni.

He's not shy about speaking out. Just get the kids out of the building if he starts to sing...

1. Is it hard to keep all those chefs happy?
Not as hard as you would think. It's hands down fresher and our product has a good shelf life. The only problem is if I drop it off at the wrong spot. Then they get mad.

2. Ever hear voices telling you to build a baseball field?
[Laughs] I hear my own when I do something stupid like drop off product at the wrong place.

3. How does Texas soil compare?
Well, of course we don't really grow in the soil, ourselves. Where we live the soil is terrible. But south of Dallas--around Ennis--it is ideal for growing.

4. Why has the local and sustainable movement become so popular?
There's a few reasons. One, gas prices; shipping just adds to the cost. Plus all the salmonella and e.coli outbreaks from the large farms. There's less of a chance that you will get those illnesses if the farm has good practices. Plus it's just really good business to help out those working in your own state.

5. What's the most finicky thing to grow?
Around here? I haven't tried all of them, but I used to kill quite a few plants when I was learning how to do this. The hardest thing we deal with is watercress. If something's going to happen, it will happen to the watercress first, from fungus to bugs. And some things just flat out won't grow in this area.

6. Is the farmer's market a plus?
My personal take is that it's not really set up for fresh produce grown locally. We took basil down there a couple times and we didn't sell anything. A lot of the stuff is brought in from other states. The farmers that sell squash--seasonal stuff--those farmers sell a lot. We're the only ones down there with lettuce and herbs. We would have to be there everyday to make it work.

7. You don't get to use manure, do you?
We do fertilizer salts. We mix our own batches. You can do hydroponics with organic fertilizer, but it's a little more involved. I've never tried it. But we don't spray any chemicals at all.

8. But with a hydroponic farm, aren't you missing out on wearing bib overalls?
[Laughs]. Growing in greenhouses is great.

9. When you go to a grocery store, do you look at the produce and cringe?
Oh, yes. Definitely. I cringe--and then I think 'I need to get my herbs in here. So there's a lot of opportunity.

10. Ever sing the 'Farmer in the Dell' song?
No, but we do make up our own songs. I can't sing them for you. [Laughs] We get bored out there, so we gotta entertain ourselves somehow.

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