Locally-grown confusion budding at Dallas Farmers Market



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Posted on May 26, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 26 at 3:45 PM

DALLAS - More and more people want to know where their food comes from, and they're willing to pay more for it at a farmers' market.

But, critics say the Dallas Farmers Market confuses shoppers and undercuts local farmers by allowing big produce dealers to sell their food under the same roof.

Hard-to-find golden zucchini is just one reason Allison Mitchell said she recently made a visit to the Dallas Farmers Market.

"It's important to me to know where my food is coming from and to support local farmers," she said.

While that's something a growing number of shoppers are willing pay more for, is that what they're getting?

At the Dallas Farmers Market, locally-grown produce  is sold side-by-side with produce from as far away as Chile, and not all shoppers can tell the difference.

"I think it's not very clear," said Taylor Samuels, a customer at the market.

Graeme Dobbs, the chef at Bolsa in Dallas, agreed.

"It's confusing," he said.

Bolsa has local ingredients delivered daily by local farmers. Dobbs said the Dallas Farmers Markets, where he sometimes shops as well, should be more clear about where food comes from.

"It's a gray area because it's a trusting basis," he said.

In the last three years, the market has made a big local food push, tripling the number of local farmers permitted to sell. They display small signs to indicate what's local.   

Janel Leatherman manages the city-owned farmers' market.

"It is up to the consumer to decide who they want to buy from," she said.

But, newer farmers markets, like in McKinney, generally have much stricter rules, selling only local food. Growers sign affidavits stating they grow their own food. Some farms are even audited.

"We poked those onions into the ground with our finger," said James Long, with Sachse Family Farms, of his produce.

"If you want to attract the local customer who want to spend money on local food, then you don't confuse them with wholesale foods," said Cindy Johnson, with McKinney Farmers Market.

And despite its name, Dallas Farmers Marker is technically a "public market" because it also supports a large-scale wholesale market for produce dealers. Some of that wholesale produce ends up competing with locally-grown products...

Many local farmers, like Cynthia Long, say that's not a level playing field. Long and her family grow their produce on the family farm in Sachse and sell at several farmer's markets. But, she said they avoid Dallas.

"I'm really torn because I hate to see it," she said. "I think that it hurts the integrity of any market when you have that kind of re-seller there."

The demand for local food around the country has the national Farmers Market Coalition reconsidering how it defines a "farmers' market."

But, for now, its a good idea to ask where the food comes from before you buy it. Also, use common sense.

"Lets face it, if you go to a fruit stand and they're selling pineapples, its not local produce," Long said.

E-mail: dschechter@wfaa.com