Spring ushers in the busiest season for North Texas farmers, a rolling harvest that starts with onions, greens, radishes, strawberries and more before arcing through berries, tomatoes, peaches and melons—all the ripe, delicious flavors that spoil us for locally farm-grown fruits and vegetables.
But demand for these just-picked treasures—whether driven by health, peak flavors or to support sustainability—consistently outstrips supply. So why aren’t there more farmers to quench this demand, and how do consumers find the real deal at area farmers markets?
It helps to understand why supply hasn’t kept pace.
“One is the age of farmers,” says Amanda Vanhoozier, doyenne of North Texas farmers markets who writes the Just Picked TX blog. The elders are aging out of the day-to-day hard work of farming, she says. Coupled with that, “the kids (in these families) are not getting into farming as much.” There are notable exceptions, such as Aaron Reeves (Reeves Family Farm, Princeton) and Chance Demases (Demases Farm, Boyd).
“The other thing,” she says, “is the young farmers…don’t have a lot of background yet to be consistent at (farmers) markets.” They’re still developing their chops, like figuring out “how much to plant and how much people are buying.”
Vanhoozier has also observed that more farmers markets in our area are keeping longer hours. “It’s hard for a farmer to be away from the farm that length of time,” she says, even if shoppers like it. Some farmers get around this with big families, such as the Baughs from Wills Point.
So what’s a shopper to do?
Occasionally take advantage of pick-your-owns, like the new one Megan Neubauer is starting this year at Pure Land Organic in McKinney. She plans to turn her farm over to citizen harvesters starting in mid-April when the onions, beets, carrots, greens and other spring vegetables mature. She and her dad, who jointly run the farm, have an acre of blackberries for the end of May. And then it’s tomato, pepper, cucumber, melon, peach and squash time. She’ll be open mornings Wednesday—Sunday.
Or, if tree fruits are your pleasure, you could look south to Larken Farms Orchard in Waxahachie. Weather wiped them out two years in a row, but they’ve got their fingers crossed this year for a good crop of peaches and more, starting in late April or early May and peaking in June and July. Best to watch their website, which will post picking times and availability.
But you probably can’t do that every weekend, so you’re back to figuring out which farmers markets play host to the farmers who sell what they grow.
If you’ve got to buy from the farmer who grew what he or she sells, Coppell, Cowtown, the Good Local markets and the Denton Community Market are consistent good bets. All have excellent reputations for vetting participants: They visit farms and ranches.
Those aren’t the only farmer-intensive markets. A quick check online at a market’s vendor requirements will give you a good idea what they require from farmers. Note: Some allow farmers to mix in a percentage of produce they haven’t grown because they believe shoppers want a wide array of produce, even if it isn’t all strictly local.
The Historic McKinney Farmers Market is an interesting exception. Its threshold is “60 percent or greater” from the farmers. But because of its location in a hotbed of locavore interest and near a lot of farms, it tends to attract lots of farmers selling only what they grow. Another exception is Market Provisions, a produce retail shop open seven days a week at the Dallas Farmers Market in the Market building. Manager Chad Julka, with an assist from his teen daughters, carries all manner of sustainably produced fruits and vegetables (even oranges from the Rio Grande Valley), with preference given to local farmers, whom he vets.
Also on weekends in the Shed at the Dallas Farmers Market, buy sustainably raised meat from local vendors—Bois D’Arc Meat Co., JuHa Ranch and Hartvickson Family Farm.
And don’t forget to put some local eggs in your basket. Spring is when chickens start laying more, but even when they’re abundant, eggs sell out fast.
For a complete list of farmers markets in our area, go to edibledfw.com and look under the Resources section.
KIM PIERCE is a Dallas freelance writer and editor who’s covered farmers markets and the locavore scene for some 30 years, including continuing coverage at The Dallas Morning News. She came by this passion writing about food, health, nutrition and wine. She and her partner nurture a backyard garden (no chickens – yet) and support local producers and those who grow foods sustainably. Back in the day, she co-authored The Phytopia Cookbook and more recently helped a team of writers win a 2014 International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award for The Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America.