Farmers markets are obvious attractions for serious foodies in search of fresh produce, locally sourced cheese and meat, and artisanal condiments. But even for a casual visitor, a trip to the farmers market can be a fulfilling expedition. This is particularly true at the Dallas Farmers Market, where the produce stalls and restaurant stands provide an interesting introduction to the people and foods of a sprawling metroplex that can be otherwise hard to get a handle on. In the bustling sheds, you will find toothsome slices of the ranching, African-American, and Latino cultures that have shaped modern North Texas.
Farmers have sold produce at the intersection of Pearl and Cadiz streets for more than 100 years. In 1939, the city began to erect the market’s distinctive metal sheds, and two years later, Dallas became one of the first Texas cities to support a farmers market. These days, the Dallas market opens every day of the year except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.
A good way to start a trip to the market is with a visit to Shed 2, a 26,000-square-foot indoor hall of specialty food vendors and products. If it’s lunchtime on Wednesday through Sunday, the first thing you’ll notice is the line for the Pecan Lodge barbecue restaurant, often stretching dozens of people long. A winner of several citywide barbecue awards, Pecan Lodge serves traditional mesquite-smoked Texas brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and sausage. (Pecan Lodge is so popular that surrounding municipalities have tried to entice the business to move.) The restaurant has also married barbecue with Mexican cuisine to produce the “Hot Mess,” a sweet potato stuffed with barbacoa-style brisket, spicy cream, and cheese. It’s a dish guaranteed to leave its mark on your sensory memory (and on your shirt).
A few steps away, Ain’t No Mo! Butter Cakes bakes the kind of creamy Bundt cakes that are impossible for children and adults alike to eat without making audible “yum-yums.” Adding to the market’s culinary diversity are vendors like Old World Sausage Co., a Chicago-style deli, and The Right Choice, which provides a succulent education in Venezuelan cuisine. The Right Choice’s combination of classic rotisserie chicken and a guasacaca sauce of parsley, cilantro, green onion, and tomato—piquant without being picante—ensures that the bones are picked clean. Owner Luis Rotundo moved to Dallas about two years ago from Venezuela, where he was a restaurateur. He heard the Farmers Market already had cuisine from different cultures, “so I thought I’d throw mine into the mix.”
Across Pearl Street from Shed 2 is the open-air Shed 1, where the local traders are housed. They greet you with gruff good humor and samples of the fare in their stalls. In the late fall, the regional produce in season includes Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, pecans, squashes, mushrooms, and several types of lettuce. The sidewalks in front of the vendors can be busy with shoppers browsing the various products, especially on weekends.
Farmer Harry Butaud looks more like Davy Crockett than Farmer Brown. He and his wife, Judi Glasgow, raise livestock on the JuHa Ranch in Barry, about 10 miles west of Corsicana. When not at the market, Butaud spends his days tending to the ranch’s upkeep on horseback and four-wheeler. The ranch’s market products—beef, pork, lamb, and rabbit—are pasture-raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, Glasgow says. “When we started ranching, we intended to go direct to the consumer rather than to the sales barn with our animals,” she says. “As a vendor at the Dallas Farmers Market, we are able to do that.”
As you familiarize yourself with the offerings at the Dallas Farmers Market, it’s worth noting that change is afoot. Earlier this year, the City of Dallas sold the market to DF Market Holdings, LLC, a private company that plans a partial makeover of the market starting this spring, including the construction of a 240-unit apartment complex and a public parking garage.
Brian Bergersen, head of DF Market Holdings, says the new owners want to recruit more local farmers and boost the number of stalls in Shed 1 from roughly 45 to as many as 70. Squeezing more stalls into the shed, and making it wholly pedestrian, will enhance the bustling atmosphere, he notes. In Shed 2, several established Dallas restaurateurs have signed up for new slots, and Bergersen plans to add stands selling fresh fish, meat, and possibly handmade cowboy hats. If that doesn’t draw the crowds, the planned two-story beer garden almost certainly will.
Bergersen also plans to shut down Shed 3, where vendors resell produce farmed across the Americas, giving the section more of the feel of a supermarket than a local farmers market. In Shed 1, which is restricted to local growers, the produce is idiosyncratic and the traders even more so. This is the atmosphere DF Market Holdings is going for, says Bergersen, who acknowledges that the secret to a great market is the traders.
That’s a sentiment appreciated by the market’s North Texas farmers, some of whom have been associated with the market for generations. Roger Heddin Jr. has come since he was six years old, when he helped out at his father’s stall. “It’s all his fault,” says Heddin, whose farm is about 60 miles east of Dallas in Canton.
Similarly, Angela Olivo, whose farm is in Farmersville near McKinney, says she has come to the market “all my life.” She grew up one of 12 children on a farm in the town of Nevada, just outside of Farmersville. Olivo, a mother of eight, is passing on the tradition to her own children and grandchildren, more because of the experiential reward than the financial one, she says. Olivo’s stand sells produce like new potatoes, green beans, onions, and okra.
“You’d be amazed how many of my kids’ friends don’t know where vegetables come from,” she says. “When we’re digging our potatoes, there are even college kids that help us who didn’t know where potatoes come from. It’s something they enjoy.”
The local traders say they look forward to the Farmers Market’s bustle and the haggling as much as the customers do.
“I’ve never had a job,” jokes Heddin.