Sunday, October 22, 2017

What's in a Name?

Later today, as I did last Sunday and will do each week during Eden’s Garden CSA distribution season, I meet my members downtown near the Dallas Farmer’s Market so they can pick up their shares for the week.

Last weekend, I brought with me a young man learning about farming in America, specifically in the DFW area, and my farm. I thought it would be both interesting and educational to walk him through the DFM. I didn’t think it would leave me feeling so sad and disappointed.

They say not to “take offence” for someone else. But I could not help but feel the frustration and disappointment that I’m sure those who took over the market a few years ago felt. They came in with just and well intended goals of revitalizing what had become an open-air grocery store/free for all, into an actual farmer’s market of locally grown produce and small-scale artisans. And now here we are, back on the way down that road again, to an “anything goes” open-air grocery store.

Some of you may wonder why you don’t see Two Lady Farmers down there on Sundays anymore. Well, in all honesty, we couldn’t justify the time we spent standing down there, and for Farmer Bev, driving about 3 hours round trip, against doing something else. Don’t get me wrong, we loved the interactions we had with the public who appreciated what we do and it was the most time we got to spend talking in person to each other, and other farmers, too. A lot of farmer wisdom can be shared at markets between farmers.

But, sometimes time well spent is not how we’d like it to be.

For now, I’m focusing on getting a part of my land ready to install a high tunnel, teaching someone about small farming enterprises, growing better quality and wider variety veggies and fruits for my CSA members to enjoy, expanding the edible forest and feeding my community here in Balch Springs through the community garden as well as Market Day.

Farmer Bev has launched a new app which will help her offer more convenience to busy customers, moving her greenhouse operations to her farm from an off-site location nearly an hour away, and adding some much-needed fencing for her heritage hog operation.

Neither of us was not happy as it was that there were non-farmer re-sellers at the time we were selling. But it is an understatement to say we both are very disappointed to see the floodgates essentially open at the down town market to include out of state produce, once again, being sold, in competition with what is truly in-season and locally growing in N. Texas.

When across the country and right here in Dallas County other small markets can police their vendors’ produce and work to ensure integrity, why does the flagship market of our city seem to fail at and even promote, non-farmers re-selling out of season, out of state goods?

Is Dallas really that shallow? (I did see a tee-shirt once that said “Keep Dallas Pretentious”) Do we have to have everything we want when we want it, all in one place, even if it means compromising the principal or integrity of something? Apparently so.

To me, a Farmer’s Market is just that; a market where farmers gather to sell their wares at fair prices to the public. And sometimes, they also bring those wares of a neighbor farmer who can’t make it to town. (Or, who prefers not to.) Or a value added item they made in their spare time. (cough cough)

And I have no issue with small batch artisans selling alongside farmers because it can add value to the market. (I do think, however, there should be a limit in the ratio of produce farmers to non-food and non-artisan vendors. Otherwise it turns into a place where people just window shop while they eat single serve items. Don’t they know people buy more when their hands as well as their stomachs are empty?)  

But when you let just anyone pull out produce they have bought from farms or perhaps warehouses across the country, and sell it side by side with a farmer full of gritty fingernails and tired eyes because she was up at 3am harvesting more peas to sell, I believe you’ve lost the integrity of that market.

I have nothing against people making a living. I do it. But I’m not trying to take credit for growing anything I don’t grow, and I don’t import produce to sell that is not local and in season.

Tennessee tomatoes and Florida blackberries have no place in a local farmer’s market – in Dallas, TX. It was hard enough to compete against southern Texas farmers’ surplus produce being sold by various outlets at our market, often before our stuff would be ready. But now to ask small farmers to compete once again with out-of-season and out-of-state produce, is just too much. Not to mention the bumping the farmers out into the street so a “special event” can enjoy the protection of the shed – the FARMERS shed…..

And many of the actual small, local farmers are leaving the DFM – again. After all of that hard work done by a team of people who really cared about the integrity of markets.

Congratulations, Dallas. You now have, once again, a giant faux market in the heart of downtown flaunting itself as a farmer’s market. I imagine the mangoes, bananas, papayas and pineapples aren’t far behind….

I own and operate Eden’s Organic Garden Center. I host a unconventional and organic producers only, Market Day on the grounds in Balch Springs each 1st and 3rd Saturday from April through early December. As an unconventional farmer myself, I also will sometimes feature produce from other unconventional or organic colleagues, plainly displaying the produce’s origin – the farm’s name and location – if the farmer isn’t able to stay to sell it themselves. (Please, feel free to contact me if you want to sell at Market Day. And customers, urge your favorite unconventional or organic farmer to come to Eden's!)


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Friday, October 6, 2017

As the Harvest Moon Set This AM....

....the world lost a sweet, caring soul, a kick ass baker & cook, farmer, and shepherdess, and I lost a dear friend. 

Rita was a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece and friend to so many and gave of herself to all at every turn she could. Even in her death she wanted her misfortune, a tumor that plagued her brain for at least 10 years, to hopefully give doctors some answers by studying it, so they could in turn help others beat that to which she would finally lose her toughest battle. 

She seemed to be more at peace with the craziness of many things and people than I could ever hope to be. She seemed to accept some of the most difficult of situations with grace and yet, she would fiercely defend her ground on others. 

She had one of the most unique perspectives on life, everyday occurrences – good, bad or indifferent – than anyone else I’ve ever known. She had a huge, loving and kind heart that I shall always remember.

I learned a great deal from my friend Rita. Not the least of which was how to forgive. I fear she bottled up a lot, which let others off the hook, even if at her own expense. But she rarely seemed to let the past interfere with her outlook or change how she treated people. Not that she didn’t have a whale of an Italian temper at times. But it was rarely displayed in public. And she was one of the most empathetic friends I’ve ever known. She seemed to always have a soothing thing to say in a time of need. 

My heart aches not only for her too short life, but for her too short of time with the man who seemed to make her the happiest ever. She always praised him and seemed to truly admire him. Her husband Mel is as loyal as they come, and equally as kind. They together, were a match and a force of love and outreach to so many people, in so many ways. I consider myself ever so lucky to have met them both, and called them both dear friends for the past many years.  

Rita will be missed by countless people. She was a fantastic magician in the kitchen and whipped up many a treat for us here at my farm’s market, up until it became just too difficult for her the past couple of years.
Everyone was always excited to see what Farmer Rita had made to bring each week.

She really had growing down pat, she was one of the greenest thumbs I know. And Rita was always generous with her insight, knowledge and tricks she’d learned along the way to anyone who asked. I loved to compare notes with her – and share in our frustrations, as well. I’d been missing our frequent visits and phone chats already, as she’s been unable to get around very well for many seasons of growing. She longed to get back to the gardens. I know she missed it. And her kitchen. 

She had the most beautiful way of arranging her produce for sale to the chefs; it made me proud to carry her orders into town. She and Mel were known for growing lots of things, but among them her unique selections of salad greens, herbs and beautiful artichokes. She loved to see what the chefs did with the produce they'd ordered from her. I wish she'd have gotten out to more of the places where it was served.

I am not sure what she was prouder of; her growing or her cooking. She was excellent at both. I was inspired to learn canning because of Rita. She always encouraged me to give it a try. I fear I will always fall short of her skill, but will always think of her as I carry out many of the tasks we shared on our separate farms. I’m glad I save most of my old text messages. I’ll get to “chat” with her and re-visit our conversations over again. 

You’ll always be in my heart my dear friend. I shall continue to miss you, and your kind words and deeds, infinitely. May you find what you’ve longed for sweet Rita, and rest in peace, eternally.