Dallas City Hall Bureaucracy Eliminates Oak Cliff Farmers Market
Chameka Barras savored success when she made nuts taste like taco meat. Her vegan nachos were a hit last summer at the Cornerstone Baptist Church neighborhood market in South Dallas, where they sold out the first time she brought them. She came back with her nachos a second time and sold out again.
“And these people are neither vegans nor vegetarians, they are meat eaters,” she says proudly.
Barras wants to take the dish, prepared in a commercial kitchen, to the new farmers’ market that the nonprofit For Oak Cliff launched last month. The monthly market is a big deal for South Oak Cliff, a food wasteland with some of the worst health outcomes in Dallas County. It’s also a big deal for Barras, who recently quit his job at the hospital to focus on his small business of preparing healthy meals.
But she can’t smash Dallas City Hall. Whether it’s an established business or a fledgling business, this city can seem determined to find a way to stifle enterprising spirits in the bureaucracy.
For Oak Cliff administrators applied for a permit for a farmers market — also known as a neighborhood market in Dallas city code — but were unable to obtain one due to the location of the nonprofit organization, said Julianna Bradley YeeFoon, director of food justice for the group. The former YMCA Moorland’s 10-acre campus is in a residential area, and farmers’ markets are not permitted in single-family neighborhoods under city rules.
The city therefore granted For Oak Cliff a special event permit. This is a problem for vendors like Barras who sell temperature-controlled food. They must obtain their own temporary permits from the city’s code compliance department, and these permits are valid for up to 14 consecutive days.
Barras said she plans to shell out nearly $250 in fees every month on a market day.
“I won’t make any profit,” she told us. “I’m basically going to give away free food.”
She filed her paperwork with the city and was confirmed for a code compliance appointment, but skipped it. She said she decided not to participate because she couldn’t afford the fees.
Bradley YeeFoon told us she was frustrated with the licensing issue. Fees would not be an insurmountable hurdle if For Oak Cliff had received a Farmer’s Market Permit. State law caps fees for farmer’s market vendors at $100 per year, and vendors — including food preparers — can attend any farmer’s market in the city that has issued the permit. .
Many people are invested in helping the For Oak Cliff market succeed. The Dallas County Health Department secured a federal grant of $157,000 to fund the initiative for three years in partnership with community organizations. For Oak Cliff organizes and promotes the event, and other groups contribute by recruiting vendors, training farmers and collecting data. Parkland offers health examinations.
The For Oak Cliff Farmers Market had a soft launch in April with a handful of vendors. The plan is to increase this number to 24 vendors, with at least seven farmers selling fresh produce. The next market is May 7.
But food vendors like Barras are stuck until For Oak Cliff finds a workaround. Bradley YeeFoon said she and some of her partners met with a city official with the Office of Special Events this week to discuss the matter, and while the official meant well, she offered no solution to short term.
“One hundred percent of our suppliers are members of the black and brown community who live in southern Dallas County. … The city has its racial equity plan, but when the rubber meets the road, how do we actually break through the barriers? said Bradley YeeFoon. “When we’re told the ordinance can’t allow it, is that the end of it or are we actually partnering to make it work?”
We asked the city about the permit situation at For Oak Cliff. A spokeswoman responded with general information about the farmers market and temporary event permits.
Dallas City Council and city leaders are talking big about equity goals, but we want to know what they will do today to meet the basic needs of an underserved community. Will the council find a way to lower the fees for For Oak Cliff food vendors? Will he quickly review the ordinance to see how it can remove unnecessary barriers for this and other farmers’ markets?
South Dallasers want better food options and greater economic mobility right now, and they have grants and people lined up to do the heavy lifting today.
If Dallas City Hall won’t help them with the load, they should at least walk away.