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Winter farmers market attracts produce buyers; redevelopment not yet begun

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Shed 1 at the Dallas Farmers Market was nearly deserted on Saturday, Jan. 4, with only a single booth offering citrus fruits and apples, trucked in from elsewhere. The absence of local growers was not all that surprising, given the recent cold snaps in North Texas and the expected return of below-freezing temperatures on Monday.

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A local farm offered beef and other meats, and there was honey and roasted corn available on that side of the street. But all the produce was across the way.

The shoppers came in a steady stream on this sunny January day, parking under cover within steps of the stalls. Much of the produce was from Texas, but from beyond the 150-mile radius that designates "verified local." Produce dealers in Shed 3 are resellers, with goods from South Texas and refrigerated produce from as far away as Maine and Washington; sometimes they resell stocks purchased from local farmers. The displays are enticing; the colors and tastes of the produce appealing, the dealers friendly; and the atmosphere is that of a country fair. Samples are mouthwatering good.

Expected renovation of the market, which was transferred to private control last summer after being operated by the City of Dallas since 1941, has not yet begun. In fact, detailed plans for the rejuvenation of the market grounds are still not well known. What is known is that Shed 1, which has been the home for local farmers selling local produce, is to be expanded, but the exact timetable is uncertain. At the end of the summer, most of the venders were a little ambivalent, adopting a "wait and see" attitude. Two of the existing buildings are slated for demolition; the ground space is to be used for parking.

Development of condos and new dwellings in the area around the market is proceeding; units that were under construction only six months ago are now occupied. The face of the neighborhood is changing rapidly. Plans envisioned by the new alliance between the city and the private developer would establish the area at the bottom of Pearl Street, within the shadow of downtown's tall buildings, as the kind of tourist destination that distinguishes Seattle's Pike Place Market. The master plan includes a park-like area, retail shops and restaurants, a cooking school, parking and, of course, the open-air market.

The sale of the market itself had been proposed repeatedly in recent years, but it still came as a surprise to many, was fought by some, and finally welcomed by those who want to see the market saved and hope the area will become a landmark. The city retains the right, under the joint agreement, to take back operation of the local farmers market if the developer doesn't perform.

Even though many of the vendors at the Dallas location have a long history there, some have ventured into other markets opened in surrounding communities. The Dallas market is the only one in the area which has served the public seven days a week, 362 day each year. The market is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

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