Downtown OKC's Farmers Market District keeps its organic roots while heading into a new age 

click to enlarge Jody and Burt McAnally poses for a photo at the Farmer's Public Market, Monday, April 3, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Jody and Burt McAnally poses for a photo at the Farmer's Public Market, Monday, April 3, 2017.

The up-and-coming Farmers Market District is known for its array of shops, bar and dining options and the historic OKC Farmers Public Market building. The area’s focal point was once Delmar Gardens amusement park, the 40-acre, boardwalk-lined home to horse races, a water slide, a dance pavilion, a baseball park, a penny arcade, a swimming pool, a zoo, a beer garden, a trolley and more.

Jody McAnally and her husband Burt purchased six acres from John E. Harden, grandson of the original OKC Farmers Public Market owner, for $850,000 in 2002.

District evolution

Photographs taken during Delmar Gardens amusement park’s heyday from 1902 to 1910 depict men wearing suits, hats and ties accompanying women in Victorian dress and enjoying boating on the nearby North Canadian River.

The district featured amusement rides, including a wooden roller coaster, and a 3,000-seat theater that drew the day’s top names, including stage and film star Lon Chaney Sr. and screen cowboy Tom Mix.

The venue flourished for years, but by 1910, the prohibition that arrived with statehood, along with seasonal flooding and the inevitable arrival of mosquito swarms, conspired to diminish the venue’s popularity.

The waterway — renamed the Oklahoma River in 2004 — was eventually transformed into a 7-mile stretch of river lakes, trails and parks.

Years later, local resident John J. Harden invested $500,000 to help build 40,000-square-foot Oklahoma City Farmers Public Market, 311 S. Klein Ave., at the former amusement park location. It opened in 1928 and centralized merchants of all kinds, including farmers selling fresh produce. The venue’s first floor soon hosted a meat market, a bakery, a candy shop, a grocery store, a drugstore and a cafe. Upstairs, the venue brought in performing greats of the day, such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Hank Williams, Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Thompson and Jim Reeves.

Urban sprawl of the 1970s pulled traffic from downtown, including the west-end district. Even so, the venue’s Antique Mall opened the following year and grew into the state’s largest shop of its kind through the mid-’80s. It still operates Tuesday through Sunday at the same location.

In 2002, the McAnallys purchased the building and the six acres it sits on and invested millions more in renovations. Today, OKC Farmers Public Market again welcomes a popular farmers market, and vendors sell fresh, locally sourced goods to customers from across the region.

Upstairs, 14,000 square feet of maple dance floor was refurbished, too, and welcomes concerts, parties, special events and more.

Building community

Surrounding the Farmers Market District’s centerpiece are Power House bar and farm-to-table eatery, Urban Agrarian local food market and wholesale distributor, Rewind Pub, The Loaded Bowl vegan restaurant, Pam’s Plants and Produce, Oklahoma Food Cooperative, Silo creativity boutique and more.

The McAnallys also are managing members of Delmar Gardens Food Truck Park, which recently launched for the season at 1225 SW Second St.

The district now draws crowds like it did decades ago, said Jody McAnally, and the park also hosts an eclectic collection of eateries and special events, including farm-to-table dinners presented by Urban Agrarian.

“Food truck parks are an integral gathering place, and most of the larger cities have really good ones,” she said. “We’re going to bring the area back to its original history as a food hub. It’s a natural extension of what we do, plus the addition is a nice homage to the history of the area.”

Urban Agrarian founder Matthew Burch has operated his Farmers Market District shop since 2008. He recently scaled back his business and operating hours after last year’s turbulent sales year. It’s still open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Additionally, Burch said he and his employees still deliver nut mixes, probiotic foods, dairy, produce and meats to Oklahoma City Thunder, Dodgers and Blue sports teams via A Good Egg Dining Group’s Sports Nutrition division.

His business also regularly hosts booths at metro area farmers market events.

Burch and district business leaders get together often to discuss options and pitch calendar ideas. He said he’s excited that Andrea Koester, OKC Farmers Public Market marketing coordinator, is organizing Delmar Sunday Market events, which run 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each Sunday beginning May 7, in the district.

“I love the work, the offerings and the customers,” Burch said. “Andrea used to help me organize our farm-to-table dinners, and I’m happy she’s organizing the Sunday market.”

Delmar Sunday Market events will feature family-friendly offerings, including food demonstrations and a youth activity booth. Koester said downtown needs the district and its farmers markets because the neighborhoods that surround it lack options for locally sourced, fresh food.

“It’s a food desert over there,” Koester said. “We are working with Oklahoma Child Nutrition Services and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help low-income families purchase nutritious food from authorized stores like ours.”

Delmar Gardens Food Truck Park Fourth Friday runs 6-9 p.m. April 28 and return each month through October, said Fourth Friday marketing coordinator Kerry Myers. The events offer pop-up shops, children’s games, live music and more at Delmar Gardens Food Truck Park.

She hopes the monthly events help establish the venue as “one of the go-to destinations in Oklahoma City.”

Print headline: Gardens fresh, Downtown OKC’s Farmers Market District retains its organic history while expanding to serve today’s diverse communities. 

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