Food quality questioned at Dallas Farmer's Market



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Posted on August 7, 2010 at 12:28 PM

Customers at the Dallas Farmer's Market expect great produce at great prices. But News 8 found, that's not always what they get.

They found many prices were no better than the grocery stores and in some cases the quality wasn't as good.

The bounty of summer has delivered some delicious flavors to the City-owned, Dallas Farmer's Market.

Chef Helen Duran, an instructor at El Centro College, says produce at a good Farmer's Market should meet a high standard of quality.

"The question is, 'Is it as good here as it would be at a grocery store?'" she said.

On a weekday trip to the market, we shopped for produce sold by dealers in Shed 3.

We did not inspect small farmers, who sell from a different shed.

Among produce dealers, Duran found uneven quality.

"Not horrible, but not great," said Duran.

Duran purchased produce she felt was not good enough to be sold to the public.

Duran says, if something's not good, it shouldn't be out there.

We put everything on ice, and, for comparison, we bought similar items at two chain grocery stores.

Then Duran inspected the fruit in the El Centro kitchen.

Some Farmer's Market fruit looked better on the inside than the outside.

But Duran was no fan of the strawberries.

"Not appealing at all. You have everything from over ripe to unripe," she said.

She wasn't a fan of the grapes either.

"If it were me, I would not sell them," she said.

She didn't like the peppers.

"There's liquid all over the table here, it's just nasty," she said.

Between the Farmer's Market, and the two chain stores, prices were about the same.

How about overall quality?

Duran ranked the produce from the Farmer's Market as better than one chain, but worse than the other.

"There were strawberries that were good, there strawberries that were bad. You have to really, really shop with a critical eye," she said.

Duran says, even though the City has the authority to inspect produce at the Farmer's Market to make sure it's fit for sale, that does not appear to happen.

"It didn't look to me like they were policing it at all," Duran said.

Janel Leatherman runs the Farmer's Market.

She says she has eight USDA-trained employees who do daily quality checks and do remove poor-quality produce.

"We do keep some records," she said.

But she wouldn't show the records.

"It's just not something that I'm willing to share at this time," she said.

Both Leatherman and Duran say whether at the Farmer's Market or a grocery store, it's the customer's to sort the good from the bad.

And, at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Leatherman says, they work hard to provide customers with quality choices.

"I think the quality here is some of the best we can provide," she said.