One word characterizes the passion that fresh produce stirs in the hearts of Texas food lovers-tomatoes. And, as many enthusiasts know, some of the best come straight from North Texas. Tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches and watermelons are most often mentioned as main attractions at local produce markets, as are grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley, apples from Washington and oranges from Florida.
Though freshness and quality are two of the factors in the popularity of produce markets, Tony Johns of the Dallas Farmers Market also believes in what she terms the “comfort factor”: the basic and pleasurable practice of interacting with the people who grow your food.
Fresh produce opportunities abound in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Weekends are busiest. Think cash instead of credit.
Dallas Farmers Market
This market, which sits on 12 acres in the shadow of downtown, is the largest municipally operated farmers market in the United States, attracting many in- and out-of-state vendors and crowds totaling nearly 2 million annually,
The three main sheds are still for drive-through produce shopping, and trie addition of walkthrough Shed No. 2 lends a more specialized gourmet feel with local honeys, cheeses, breads, flowers and herbs, as well as imported mushrooms, spices, salsas, nuts, coffees and jams. Plants-from flowers in the spring to Christmas trees in December-can also be found,
The market also offers educational classes and cooking classes by some of Dallas’ top chefs in a state-of-the-art kitchen on the premises. 7 a.m. 6 p.m., daily except Christmas and New Year’s; 1010 S, Pearl Expwy. Information: 214-939-2808.
North Central Texas Farmers Market, Benbrook
Located a half-mile west of State Highway 183. this market offers Texas-only produce farmed by 30 to 35 farmers within 150 miles. The stand offers both fruit and vegetables, but pay attention to the seasonality of what you’re looking for. 8 a.m.-sellout (about 2 p.m.), Saturday through May 14; 8 a.m.-sellout, Wednesday-Sunday, through September; 8 a.m.-sellout, Wednesday & Saturday, through November: 8101 Hwy. 80 West. Information: 817-244-6036.
Grapevine Farmers Market
Nestled behind Grapevine’s Heritage Center and near the terminus of the Tarantula Train off south Main Street, this North Central Texas Farmers Market Association member offers produce from six to 12 Texas farmers within 150 miles. The market is in a rustic shed with antique farm equipment out front. Within walking distance are many historical shops and the Grapevine Historical Museum. Opens May 17. 3-6 p.m., Wednesday: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.. Saturday, through September 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday, October through December; 701 S. Main St. Information: 817-424-0578.
Farmer’s Branch Farmers Market
This market is set to open south of the DART bus depot parking lot directly behind the Word of Faith church, two blocks south of Valley View Lane off Denton Drive. This is also a North Central Texas Farmers Market Association member. No permanent structures. Opens May 24. 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Wednesday; 8 a.m.-sellout, Saturday, May through September; 8 a.m.-1 p.m.. Saturday, October through December. No phone.
Downtown Farmers Market, Fort Worth
About a dozen fanners who previously sold in the Tandy Center parking lot have set up to market Texas-only produce in this vacant lot at Henderson and Belknap streets with great views of downtown Fort Worth. Look for a small tent covering behind the Taco Bell restaurant. Open daily, May through October. No phone.
Piano Produce Market
Located inside a strip mall, owner John Baird’s private market has been open for two years selling produce from the Dallas Farmers Market. The market specializes in bottled condiments and sauces from across the country; salsas, jams and jellies, mustards, pastas, olives, honeys, spices and the best-selling fat-free dressings. Peanuts and gourmet coffees are also popular. Fruit baskets start at $23; gift boxes $7.10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sundays during summer; 2919 W. 15th St. at Independence Parkway. Information: 972-985-8405.
Georgia’s Farmers Market
Farmer and cookbook author Georgia Massey moved her market from Fairview Farms to a renovated garage (you can’t miss it-white building with burnt orange trim) across the street from Piano’s Haggard Park. With her brothers, she continues to specialize in farm-fresh seasonal produce grown in Collin County and North and East Texas. She wants to be a one-stop stand, so she offers dairy products, jams and jellies, herbs, sprouts, bread, fudge, and low- and nonfat items. She sells plants and flowers, too. 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m>6 p.m., Sunday; 916 E. 15th St. Information: 972-516-4765.
Tom McCurdy’s Fruit Stand
Proprietor Tom McCurdy has been selling East Texas produce from this stand a block east of North Central Expressway for 33 years. He sells mostly Texas-grown produce. He also deals in some plants and pumpkins in the fall. 9 a,m.-6 p.m,, Monday-Saturday, March through October; 111 N. Interurban. Richardson. No phone.
Mesquite Farmers Market at Big Town
This market, housed under a metal-roofed shed in a prominent corner of Big Town’s parking lot off the U .S. 80 access road, has room for a large number of vendors. Open year-round, produce comes from out-of-state farmers during the winter (especially citrus fruits) and Texas farmers during the summer. 8 a.m.-7 p.m., daily; 1200 Big Town Shopping Center. Information: 214-319-8093.