The Farmer Diaries

North Texas farmer gets a little help from his farmers market friends

North Texas farmer gets a little help from his farmers market friends

onions curing in the open air
Onions picked in mid-summer curing in the open air before being packed for market. Photo by Marshall Hinsley
White Rock Local Market
White Rock Local Market has become a destination for buyers who want to support verified local farmers. Photo courtesy of White Rock Local Market
melons and bags of onions ready for the market
Israeli melons and five-pound bags of locally grown onions prepared for sale at White Rock Local Market. Photo by Marshall Hinsley
onions curing in the open air
White Rock Local Market
melons and bags of onions ready for the market

Time was running out for about 500 pounds of onions and several dozen Israeli melons. The onions could keep for a while longer. But the melons, not so much: Once picked, they have the shelf life of a floral arrangement.

These were signs of my success. My 2013 harvest has been bountiful, with a big crop of onions and melons ripening at the same time. But without a way to store them or sell them off, my attempt at sustainable agriculture looked like it was destined for failure. If all my work ended with rotting produce in the compost pile, it would be clear that my endeavor was an expensive hobby and not the partial livelihood I envisioned.

My motivation was floundering. Coordinating the harvest and locating an immediate market for it was a task too large. In my mind, I was already scaling back the scope for next year.

 Still more came to my table at White Rock Local Market, asking for Israeli melons. Someone was creating a buzz.

Then to my rescue came Sarah Perry and Arielle Richman, the organizers of White Rock Local Market, whom I contacted in a last-minute attempt to find an outlet.

To the market
Advocates for local agriculture, they understood the urgency of my situation. They quickly stepped in to help me through the application and screening process that verifies vendors as real North Texas farmers. It's a process that weeds out the overalls-clad posers who merely want to turn a profit on a box of Dole pineapples picked up cheap from a wholesaler at Dallas Farmers Market.

That week, I headed to the White Rock Lake Market, held every Saturday, either at the Lakeside Baptist Church or the Green Spot. (The schedule is here.) I felt a little unsophisticated, setting up a mere table with my produce, next to vendors whose booths resembled trade show presentations. But my misgivings were put to rest by the warmth and welcoming attitude of the hosts, vendors and, most of all, the eager customers.

The first customer came up to my table and asked how much the Israeli melons cost. I responded, "Five dollars." He handed me a $5 bill without hesitation, picked a melon and was on his way. Seconds later, the scene repeated itself. Customers came with such dedicated intent to buy, not browse, that within an hour, I had sold out of melons and most of the onions.

Still more came to my table, asking for Israeli melons. Someone was creating a buzz; I suspect that Rita Foust of Farmer Jones Eco Friendly Produce, a few booths away, was sending people my way. I was impressed by everyone's enthusiasm to see our collective effort succeed.

At the end of the day, I took home only three five-pound bags of onions from the 22 I brought. The sales helped me recover a large portion of the investment I made in growing this year. My enthusiasm was beginning to revive.

To the chefs
A few days later, my optimism in participating in the local farm-to-table movement was given another boost by Kristine and Steve Orth of Eden Creek Farm in Blooming Grove. Proponents of sustainable agriculture and organic growers themselves, the two combine their produce with the harvests of other organic growers and make weekly deliveries to receptive Dallas chefs. They bought the rest of my onions and almost all the melons that had ripened since my White Rock Local Market premiere.

Knowing that onions I've grown will be used in fine dishes prepared by Dallas chefs gave me a sense of accomplishment, of being discovered. Knowing that there's a market motivates me to grow more next year.

But most important is the discovery of our growing sustainable agriculture community. There are so many challenges in attempting to rein in the monster of industrialized agriculture. Finding collaborators and patrons gives me comfort that I don't have to go it alone.