Dallas Farmers Market flip-flops on freshness standards

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on September 21, 2010 at 10:07 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 22 at 4:59 PM

DALLAS — The city of Dallas wants to get out of the farmers market business. It is now soliciting bids for a private company to run the downtown complex of stands and shops.

The move comes at a time when the Dallas Farmers Market is under scrutiny. News 8 has found the market's administrator is headed to trial, accused of assaulting a vendor.

We have also learned that for years, the administrator kept no records of food inspections, or of vendors who sell rotten food.

As a result, some local chefs say some of the produce dealers at the market are a disappointment.

We did a spot-check of produce quality at the Dallas Farmers Market this summer with Chef Helen Duran, an instructor with El Centro College.

Some things she found were fabulous; a few were terrible.

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

In August,  farmers market administrator Janel Leatherman told WFAA a staff of eight  employees is trained to inspect every stall, every day. Vendors who sell bad produce, she said, are forced to throw it away.

But are records kept of those inspections? "We do keep some records. We do,” said Leatherman.

But she declined to show News 8 any related documents. "It's just not something I'm willing to share, at this point,” Leatherman said.

Following that interview,  WFAA filed an open records request with the City of Dallas. We asked to see the market's inspection records.

The City's response? "There are no records."

We also asked for records of any actions taken against vendors who sell bad food. Again, the City's response? "There are no records."

The Market is in Councilwoman, Angela Hunt's district. "It damages the credibility of the Farmer's Market,” she said, asking how the City can build a case against vendors who hurt the market's reputation by selling poor quality produce?

"And then you have some concrete reason for saying, 'This isn't the place for you,’” Hunt said.

Leatherman declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a written statement said:

"As of the end of August, we are keeping records of any product that was pulled."

News 8 has also learned Dallas police issued Leatherman a citation for a misdemeanor assault against a vendor who had violated the terms of her lease. Leatherman is charged with grabbing a vendor's arm and shaking her violently. The case is scheduled for trial in December.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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