Freshness is the advantage at the Dallas produce markets.

A summer trip to your local produce stand might seem unnecessarily hot and inconvenient, but if you take the time, you’ll find that it often charges less than the chain stores, sells fresher goods, and is staffed by friendlier, more knowledgeable people. Freshness is the key word. Produce stands – called fruit stands in the business – are generally not air-conditioned, so their goods perish quickly. The operators buy daily – from the Dallas Farmer’s Market or elsewhere – and know almost exactly how much produce will move in a day. Most retailers would rather make a second trip to the market, or even close for the day, than risk overstocking.

With few exceptions, the fruit-stand business is local and personal; owners say they know the majority of their customers by name. Often, they grew up in the business. They enjoy talking about their work – about the produce that they picked up at 5 a.m., that they set out on the tables. In comparison, the Tom Thumb stock boy with his water spritzer lacks credibility.

Besides, nothing compares with the smell of freshly picked cantaloupe or the sight of yellow, red, green, and white vegetables lined up in the summer heat. For the customer, it’s the harvest without the sweat.

A few tips for buying fresh produce: Shop early. Everything is out on the stands by 9 a.m. Produce moves quickly in the summer, so the late-afternoon shopper may find some bins a bit depleted. Carry cash. I found a few stands that take checks or credit cards, but in general, small operations work more efficiently with cash transactions. Think small. Overwhelmed by all that freshness, you may be tempted to overbuy. Remember, what is firm one day will be limp after two more. Besides, just how many of those beautiful little crook-neck squash can your family endure? Follow the example of the people who run the stands: Buy what you need, and come back when you need more.

Farmer’s Market, 1010 S. Pearl Expressway (north of interchanges for 1-30 and 1-20). For information, call 748-2082 or 670-4433. 7 days a week, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Cash only.

The Dallas resident who allows the summer to pass without a visit to the Market has deprived himself of the best free entertainment in town – as well as a chance to fill his arms with sacks of peas, beans, turnips, squash, beets, sweet corn, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, cherry peppers, clover honey, fresh dill weed, tomatoes, pinto beans, cantaloupes, watermelon, and tiny red sugar plums.

June, July, and August are the high times for the market with all of the local produce coming in from nearby farms. Some 200 independent farmers come daily (more arrive on the weekend) to set out their produce in two of the three large market barns situated where S. Harwood, S. Pearl, and North Central Expressway converge. Any farmer may rent a stall in the red and yellow barns for $7 per day. He may sell in whatever size lots he wishes, the smallest usually being a half-quart, the largest a bushel. During the week, the two barns can readily accommodate any farmer who comes, but the weekends are crowded.

On the west side of Pearl Expressway is a third barn which is reserved for dealers who import some or all of their products rather than raise them. In this barn the shopper will find apricots, nectarines, strawberries, mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, and some wholesale local produce. What he will not find in this barn are small lots. For instance, in the farmers’ barns a shopper may buy a quart of okra; in the dealers’ barn, he must buy a bushel. The regulations are set up to protect the farmers from being undersold. In addition, the dealers must pay $25 for a six-month city license to sell, and then pay $15 per day per stall.

If you wish to shop on a Saturday or Sunday, arrive early; otherwise, parking will be a problem. You might even arrive early enough to have breakfast at the Farmer’s Grill – the fresh biscuits and cream gravy are wonderful. Buy small. If a local produce stand can seduce a shopper into overbuying, the Market can turn a perfectly sensible bachelor into a maniac, with visions of cooking for the masses. Many shoppers carry clipboards and paper to note down the prices they are given as they take a pre-buying walk through the barns. Each stall has a number – be sure to note it; after a time, the stalls begin to look very much the same.

On the weekends, some farmers bring in fresh herbs, the most abundant of which is dill weed. Also abundant is fresh mint – staked off by warning signs that read “If you pinch, you buy.”

A final word about the Market: it is a safe, well-patrolled place to shop. Market Manager Arnold Garza and Market Master John Tanner oversee the operation in a way that encourages the farmers to return year after year.

Jim Toon’s Pick-a-Peck, 6434 Skillman at Abrams. Open 7 days a week, 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Cash only.

Of all the produce stands in Dallas, the Pick-a-Peck displays its goods most artfully: Every plum is in place and shown to its best advantage. Charles Barton, the buyer for the stand, repacks every box of strawberries, to take out the bruised ones and improve the eye-appeal of the berries. Although all fruit stands sell the same California strawberries, Charles Barton’s look better.

Pick-a-Peck carries a full range of fresh Texas produce as well as fruit imported from Washington (apples) and California (nectarines, strawberries, avocadoes). In addition, he carries some tropical fruit like pineapple. The most popular locally grown items are tomatoes, cantaloupes, and peaches.

To supplement its fresh produce sales and to maintain the business through the non-producing winter months, Pick-a-Peck offers a series of seasonal specialties. In the fall, Jim Toon fills the wedge between Skillman and Abrams with pumpkins of all sizes; in winter, the pumpkins give way to Christmas trees; in spring, plants and hanging baskets are pre-eminent (although plants are sold year round).

Because of its location and size, Pick-a-Peck bears a larger overhead than some of the smaller stands, and prices are slightly higher. However, the convenience of the location, the quality of the produce, and the pleasantness of the stand itself may be worth the few pennies more.

Gene’s, 2500 Forest Lane near LBJ and Harry Hines. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Cash and checks with identification.

Gene’s Produce, not listed in the Yellow Pages because it doesn’t need to be, began as a small stand on Harry Hines and has become Dallas’ largest volume seller of fresh produce after the Farmer’s Market. Gene Cox has been in the produce business for more than 35 years, beginning his career as a stock boy in a Gainesville grocery store during the Depression. After a 15-year stint in the California produce business, he and his family opened a small stand on Harry Hines in 1957.

Perhaps because of the volume of business that it does, Gene’s is the most efficient and the least “down home” of the stands that I visited. All of the produce has been pre-measured and sold only by the basket. The shopper is not invited to inspect the tomatoes; if he wants to comparison shop, he will just have to go home and weigh his purchase on the bathroom scales. At a stand of less repute, a pre-packaging system such as the one Gene’s uses might serve to disguise bruised or over-ripe goods. Apparently, however, the customer need have no such worries at this fruit stand.

In the summer months, Gene’s carries the standard squash, onion, okra, peach and melon crops. In the fall appear apples (the apples you see in the summer and spring come from cold storage), oranges, south Texas grapefruit, and yams.

Like the other large fruit stands, Gene’s carries some seasonal supplemental supplies. Unlike any of the other stands, Gene’s has an airconditioned section housing the tropical plants that sell year round. Like the fresh produce, the house plants look healthy. An open-air planthouse contains the hanging baskets which are the remnants of the spring season, but healthy, full, and reasonably priced.

Forest Lane Produce, 8151 Forest Lane. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Cash only.

Forest Lane Produce is a year-round operation that appears to be in a transition stage. Currently, manager Dolly Tippit carries all the usual fresh farm produce as well as milk and eggs at prices generally lower than those quoted at the other stands. When I visited there, the produce was not displayed in a particularly inviting fashion, but this lack of style did not seem to bother the flow of regular, neighborhood customers. The small selection of plants looked like the end of the season.

You might want to suspend judgment on this one, though; Ms. Tippit has not managed this stand very long, and she has plans. Perhaps the most interesting part of her operation is the co-op service, which she hopes to expand. Ms. Tippit buys in bulk from the Farmer’s Market, passing some wholesale savings on to the co-op members. Members may order potatoes by the sack, berries by the pint, nuts by the pound, milk by the gallon, and eggs in lots of two dozen. Ms. Tippit also has 15 different plans for buying combinations of beef, pork, and chicken. For instance, the 65-pound Variety Pack includes 10 lbs. of ground beef, 7 lbs. of round steak, 10 lbs. of friers, 10 lbs. of pork chops, 8 lbs. of boneless pork roast, 10 lbs. of chopped sirloin, and 10 lbs. of chuck roast. The Variety Pack costs $98.99 (about $1.50 per pound). The most expensive combination contains 100 lbs. of round steak, chuck roast, T-bones, sirloin steak, and ground chuck for $175.

White Rock Farmers’ Market. 8622 Garland Rd. Open 7 days a week, 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Accepts Master Charge.

Anyone who graduated from Woodrow Wilson High in the Fifties will know that the White Rock Farmers’ Market used to be the Hidyho! Hamburger Stand, which sold five burgers for a dollar, with curly, unskinned French fries. Twenty years ago, the Hidyho! became a produce stand and is now on its fourth set of owners, Gene Lewis and his family.

This stand is different from the other stands of its size in two ways. First of all, the sign that reads “Tomatoes, 39¢” is permanent. At most other stands, tomatoes will cost up to 79¢ a pound early in the growing season, then drop as the main part of the crop comes in. Lewis keeps his tomatoes at the same price year round, sometimes selling at cost, but always selling a bargain tomato. He also keeps his lettuce at a comparatively low price. (At the time we visited, it was 49C a head.) On other produce, his prices were similar to those posted by other stands.

In addition to holding the line on lettuce and tomatoes, this market distinguishes itself by housing the largest selection of ponytail plants in the city – four or five thousand of them, many over 100 years old. Because Lewis supplies most of the ponytails to the Dallas market, his prices are much lower than those of other dealers.

Finally, for those who prefer their vegetables organically grown, the White Rock Farmers’ Market features Mrs. Bomer’s organic black-eyed peas.

Quicks Produce Market, 2220 W. Clarendon at Hollywood. 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Cash only.

Perhaps Quicks Produce Market deserves to be put in a special category as the only unadulterated, year-round produce market in the city of Dallas. Every other 12-month stand in town has a hedge against the lean winter months – hanging plants, pumpkins, or Christmas trees. The only slight concession Quicks makes to winter is its Christmas fruit baskets.

Save for Jack’s Market, Quicks is the least accessible of the markets listed in this article; however, the trip there makes a pleasant city drive. From downtown, take the Corinth Street Viaduct, a two-lane bridge trimmed with old-fashioned street lights, to Clarendon (which deadends into Corinth Street). Clarendon winds and dips through a variety of neighborhoods, passes the Marsalis Park Zoo, and passes Quicks as it crosses Hollywood.

You can buy produce at Quicks by the pound or the measure – it’s the buyer’s choice. However, the “Three for a Dollar” table is hard to pass up. This table holds big bowls of onions, okra, carrots, squash, lemons, cucumbers, and plums. The bowls are 35¢ each – three for a dollar. This arrangement encourages buying a variety of produce in small quantities; a genuine aid to the buyer.

Although small, Quicks is well-stocked with produce – and customers – thanks to Martha Jo and Richard “Pee Wee” Henson, who manage the stand. Richard Hen-son is a second-generation produce dealer, who has done his share of advising beginners in the business. Martha Jo Henson manages the customers. She serves as a sort of local confidant and public ear, and she tends to her older customers by telling her kid helper to “Take this young lady’s package to the car.”

Fresh Produce Farmers’ Market, Haskell and Parry. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. (closed during winter). Cash only.

The Fresh Produce Farmers’ Market feels like a truck that took root and grew. Located next to Fair Park, this stand draws customers who are on their way to and from work. It has been in the Turner family for 20 years and is now run by Billy Turner. He remembers when the stand was open 24 hours a day, all year. It now closes at 11 p.m. and stays open until Christmas only if the pecan crop is good. Otherwise, the family will go on the road early to sell south Texas citrus in neighboring states.

Although this stand carries all the farm-fresh produce that the others do, its largest stock is in watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes.

If you have a craving for cold, sweet watermelon late some night, this is the place to get it.

Garden Fresh Produce, 6617 Hillcrest Ave. Open 7 days a week, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Cash only.

Three years ago, Guy Griffeth and Jeff Eleazer decided that every small community needs a handy place to buy fresh produce and that the Park Cities were no exceptions. Unlike most of the other young people in the produce business, these two were not born to it; but if three good years offers any indication of success, then produce vendors need not be born – they can be made.

During the summer months, this stand carries all the fresh produce that is farmed locally, and popular imported fruits and vegetables, like avocadoes and pineapples, that are brought to the Market from out of state. Griffeth and Eleazer are down at the Market with the rest of the buyers at 5:00 a.m. every day (earlier if a popular product is in short supply – last summer cantaloupes were scarce and required wee-hour buying) to get their bushel baskets full of Texas onions, okra, tomatoes, and peaches and to pick out a selection of imported pineapples, nectarines, and strawberries. These buyers assume that their neighborhood clientele will be extraordinarily fussy and demand a tomato that looks as good as it tastes.

In addition to its mainstay of seasonal produce, this stand carries some house plants year round and a large variety of hanging baskets in the spring. In the fall, pumpkins appear, followed immediately by Christmas trees. In all, Garden Fresh Produce makes a nice addition to Snider Plaza. Although the prices may be slightly higher (5¢ per pound or so) than at similar stands and even chain grocery store specials, the convenience of this little market and the freshness of the produce it sells more than balance the difference.

Garden Fresh Produce, 3201 Knox. Open 7 days a week, 8:30 a.m.- 7 p.m. Cash only.

While nearly identical to its older counterpart on Hillcrest, Garden Fresh Produce on Knox has some additional features. It’s in a wet area, and carries wine and beer as well as some other party snacks. It also stays open an hour later to accommodate a crowd that might not make the Hillcrest shop’s 6 p.m. closing.

This stand might appear to be understocked: There are no large spreads of vegetables out to catch the eye; everything is in small bins or bushel baskets. However, the stock is complete, and there is a sufficient amount of each item to allow the shopper to do some real choosing. The quality of all the produce is good. By using young help and by keeping the operation simple, the owners keep their prices down in an otherwise high-priced part of town.

Buckner Boulevard Produce, 500 S. Buckner at Elam. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. (9 p.m. in winter). Accepts Master Charge and Visa.

According to “Weasel” Hammond, if you want to make a living off a single fruit stand, you have to offer your customers some variety. His approach is to keep the prices of fresh produce low (from “breakeven” to 10 percent markup), to keep a steady flow of customers coming in who will, from time to time, buy some of the small, decorative houseplants, or the larger patio plants, or some of the pots that surround the stand. For the single-minded produce shopper, Weasel offers some good deals on all of his fresh produce – particularly his tomatoes.

Because it sits at the intersection of two major highways, this fruit stand draws a variety of customers. It gets the commuters who pass by to and from work (the hours make that stop convenient on both ends), and the weekenders who are going to the lake; it also gets the repeat customers who live in Pleasant Grove and shop there every few days. Some customers are so regular that they just need to stand at the door and Weasel knows what they have come for. Fast, friendly, telepathic service.

Valley View Produce, 2532 Valley View, one-half mile east of 1-35. Open 7 days a week, Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Cash only.

The Valley View Produce stand has had several owners since it was built nine years ago – typical of the smaller stands, which have difficulty surviving financially over the winter. However, the current owner has added some items to his stand that may give it some off-season stability.

Typically, plants, pots, and potting soil provide the major support items; atypically, this stand carries a selection of Wisconsin cheeses, appearing in full wheels wrapped in red or yellow rinds. Such grand pieces of unprocessed cheese make a nice complement to a good selection of fresh produce.

In addition to fresh produce and cheese, Valley View carries jumbo fresh eggs and milk, making the stand a good place for Farmers Branch residents to shop. According to manager Greg Hartman, 95 percent of his business is repeat business; he knows most of his customers by name.

Jack’s Market (formerly Adline Curb Market), 1925 Gus Thomasson. Open 7 days a week, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Cash only.

Jack’s Market conforms in almost every way to the small-produce-stand stereotype. It sits at a crossroad on the edge of 1-20 (near Town East Mall) and takes the traffic as it comes in or goes out. Of the stands I visited, this was the hottest and the least prosperous-looking. However, Jack’s does have a following – they come in for the tomatoes. The woman who now owns and runs the stand inherited the reputation for terrific tomatoes from her predecessor; fortunately, she already had the knack for maintaining that reputation.

Jack’s does have one offering that is generally unavailable except at the Farmer’s Market. When business is slack, the four people who work the stand shell black-eyed peas, complaining as they work that the American homemaker is a lazy specimen indeed. The shelled peas here are slightly lower-priced than those at the Farmer’s Market.

In general, prices at Jack’s were alittle lower than those at the otherstands; however, unless you are onyour way to Mesquite, the savings inproduce will be lost in the cost of thegas to get you there.


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