If the tender shoots and budding flowers outside are any indication, growing season is well underway, which means the seasonal farmers markets have started opening around Dallas. The White Rock Local Market started its season earlier this March, and the Coppell Farmers Market starts on March 29, after completing its shortened winter season.
There will also be a new farmers market in the Trinity Groves development, if organizer Monica Diodati's plans work out. Diodati is holding the Little D Farmers Market on April 6 and 13 as a trial, and if those two events sufficiently impress Trinity Grove property holders, she'll be allowed to hold markets there for the rest of the season.
Diodati also has to please the Dallas special events office in order to get the required permits if she wants to hold her markets.
"I knew the city had a reputation for making it hard," she said of the permitting process. Diodati was referring to the past experiences of other farmers markets organizers, most notable Sarah Perry, whose struggles with the city regarding her White Rock Local Market I covered last year in my story, "How Dallas Killed Farmers Markets."
"I found it to be easy," Diodati said. She pointed to a website set up by the special events office that details the rules and restrictions for neighborhood farmers markets. The process for applications, paying fees and vetting vendors at the market is also clearly described on the web page. Diodati thinks it's easier now because the city doesn't own a competing farmers market downtown.
Certainly when Sarah Perry started a farmers market in East Dallas six years ago, the process was significantly more arduous. Perry described constantly changing rules along with a shifting permit structure that had her worrying each week whether she'd be able hold her next market. Perry commented on draft regulations that eventually became city code, but the final product was far from perfect. When City Council enacted its first Farmers Market ordinance in 2010, there were five farmers markets listed on a presentation presented to councilmembers. Last year at this time there were three.
The rules are much easier to understand now that the city has written them down, but they're still very restrictive. A neighborhood market can only operate for 28 days out of the year, and organizers who wish to operate further are required to apply for a second permit, and find a new site. A list showing every participating vendor must be submitted 10 days prior to the market, even though some farmers make their decision to participate at the last minute, and stalls are restricted by size.
These rules, especially the 28 days of operation restriction, are not levied on the Dallas Farmers Market downtown, which was recently sold by the city to private developers. So City Hall may have made it more simple to set up a neighborhood farmers market, but it still hasn't made it any easier to set up a successful one.
Diodati also wants to expand her customer base. She's been peppering the often forgotten neighborhoods around Trinity Groves with flyers in an attempt to welcome locals, and plans for taking SNAP benefits are in the works as well. And she also advocates for late afternoon and evening markets. "Morning markets cut out a big demographic," she said, pointing to those who prefer to spend their Saturday morning in bed than hunting for the perfect tomato.
"I think they should have them every weekend," Diodati said of area farmers markets organizers, herself included. Diodati started the Design District market, which shut down the street in an attempt to get people out and walking in their neighborhood. The model works best, however, when a market or even becomes a regular occurrence that shoppers can depend on week after week -- an impossibility given Dallas' current regulations.