Sunday, August 31, 2014

Market Day Then and Now

First Market Day August 2007
Has it already been 7 years since I opened my property as home of the first farmer’s market in southeast Dallas County? Yes, I guess it has been. You can read about our humble beginnings here. And here. 

Back in August of 2007, I invited some of the farmers from the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc. to set up a food co-op at my place. I’d advertise for pre-orders and customers could come pick up here, at my house.

See, I’d fallen on some tough times and found myself without transportation out of Balch Springs. Being somewhat particular about the food I chose to consume, I found it frustrating that I couldn’t buy any thing I considered suitable at the only grocery store within walking distance. The other store, over 2 miles away, didn’t carry anything organic either – much less, locally grown from N. Texas. Maybe, not even from anywhere in Texas.

The Early Years Market Day
So started my journey on what has now become a passion of mine; To make available for me & my community, real food that was grown without the use of synthetic poisonous pesticides, by people who like to meet them – face to face. I call it Market Day. And everyone is welcome here - no membership required.

It’s not flashy. It’s not loud. It’s not crowded. It’s not a “stuff” market.

It’s Real Food, Grown with Integrity. I used to say that it was Real. Clean. Fresh. Local. Food. But a lot of people didn’t know what that meant. Clean food? You mean, you wash it for us? Not exactly.

If it’s really full of soil, yes, we’ll rinse it off. But ever since the USDA restricted the use of the word organic by anyone who doesn’t pay them to do so, farmers have had to find alternative ways to describe farming practices older than the USDA. Whatever.

Simply put, we don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Nature has enough in her arsenal for controlling outbreaks of insects, diseases and soil building. And soil building is the key to “organic” growing.

I tried to find “organic” farmers that wouldn’t have to drive hours on end to get here to sell their products. And I didn’t want to go to some big warehouse to buy imported organic produce and re-sell it. There were already enough brokers from whom you could get that kind of product. No, not nearby.  But why not give customers the chance to meet the people who grew their food and be the first place like it in our area. Why not give people the option of eating in a way they didn’t previously have. I saw a blossoming, local “real” food hub! We had enough fast “food” joints.

Unfortunately, it was not an easy task to find sufficient numbers of organic growers.

Some early days volunteers help farmer Marie
Farming is not easy, as I have discovered. I broke ground and into a new career in 2008. Keeping farmers coming back year after year of grasshoppers, hail, drought crop losses – is not easy either. But it is something I feel compelled to keep doing. You could say that I've become a small farm & local food justice activist. Hey, if you don't stand for something....

When a customer will drive her motorized wheelchair down the street, oxygen tank in tow, over 2 miles, to be a part of Market Day, and encourage us to keep up the good work, spending what little money she has on fresh, real food – I can get up every morning and hoe a row of weeds down and fight the county not to spray toxic pesticides in the area that will kill our honey bees - who pollinate our crops.

Community Garden Ground Breaking
Brenda was one of our first cheerleaders. She still calls my shop every time she sees a story about us in the paper and came to markets as often she could find the energy to do so. She was even part of our community garden ground breaking. She doesn’t come to visit as much anymore, her health has limited her outings. But a new neighbor from 2 miles the other direction, Charles, has started to cruise down on his chair. He is sometimes late and misses a lot, but we’ve usually got something leftover that he likes. Yesterday, he took home a watermelon and some home made Italian rolls. And a smile.
A small community of folks living just to the community south in Seagoville, became another reason I am so diligent about organic methods being followed by our growers. The folks who live together in a special “camp” for chemically sensitive people taught me the importance of not allowing any of our farmers to use “conventional” methods.

Even if it meant, no fresh strawberries.

One spring when I had to retract our excited press announcement about featured organic strawberries coming to our market, instead of complaints, I got thank you notes for “thinking of our health”.

(By the way, growing strawberries organically is no easy feat. We look each spring for someone who can grow them and bring them to market. Our soil here just hasn’t been rich enough to support that crop – yet.)

Families are encouraged to visit
It's really important to me that children know how real food is supposed to taste and where the heck it comes from.

Eggs don’t grow on trees and tomatoes don’t come from plastic covered foam cartons. 

Texas Honey Bee Guild Advocates for Education
And you know what? Most kids don’t even flinch when they learn that honeybees and earthworms make their food grow – and taste - better. 
Where's my "hat-cam"?
And they get some of the most awesome looks on their faces when they pet and feed one of my friendly roosters or hens; learning not to be afraid of them, while respecting them as a living creature who provides them with food. This happens a lot at Market Day, too.

This spring we were approved to accept SNAP at the market. To me, this was monumental because I know there are a lot of good people in the area who have fallen on the same hard times I fell on back in 2007. Good folks live all around me who might need a helping hand in order to keep their families well fed and use the Lone Star Card. They can even use it to buy vegetable plants and seeds here so they can grow some of their own food. We're always offering gardening tips and hold low cost classes periodically.

Picked by hand - with care
NOT found at Market Day
We can’t beat bulk supermarket prices. Everyone here grows, harvests and handles everything by hand on a very small scale and that costs more to do than mass production. 

But we sure can give you awesome taste, unmatched freshness, and the peace of mind people get knowing that their food was grown in a safe way by someone they can meet – face to face. And once you try real grass fed beef – that “closeout” meat won’t ever look, or taste, the same to you.

Eat More (grass fed) Beef!
As our newly appointed volunteer market manager Iris says, we are not the biggest, but we are....

Farmer Mel - Farmer Jones Eco Friendly Produce
“The Cleanest Little Farmer’s Market in Town”. We’re also still, the only one.

Real Food, Grown with Integrity. All farmers, ranchers and producers – only – No brokers - ever. 
GMO free – always. 

Happy anniversary to us all! Hope to see you next time, down on the farm!

Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Market Day is every 1st, 3rd and 5th Saturdays April – December (weather permitting) at 4710 Pioneer Road, Balch Springs in back of the the old gray farmhouse next to the Zumba House, across the street from the new Dallas County Cowboy Church.