Photography by Emil Lippe.
Casey Cutler dreamed of being a trainer at SeaWorld. That was long before she was running two neighborhood farmers markets and living in McKinney with her family, 200 chickens and two each of goats, mini horses, bunnies and Pyrenees dogs.
“I went to school in Florida and interviewed them,” she says. “And I was like, ‘What is the pathway to be a trainer for Shamu?'”
The Boston native, a “sun chaser,” went south to attend her dad’s alma mater, Rollins College, outside Orlando. It was then, as a young adult, that she finally changed her mind. She decided SeaWorld’s practices were animal abuse, became a vegetarian and pursued a degree in environmental studies.
After graduation, she joined the Peace Corps. Convincing the organization to extend her two-year stint to three, she worked in Paraguay as an environmental volunteer. While there, she became fluent in Spanish and Guaraní, and among her projects were developing a recycling program at a school, setting up a soup kitchen at a community center and teaching classes.
A volunteer coordinator job at the Trinity River Audubon Center brought Cutler to Dallas in 2013. She also worked part-time as a bartender at Libertine on Greenville Avenue and through that role, was recruited to bartend at the annual potluck for Good Local Markets.
“The food was incredible. They were all farmers, so they grew the stuff they were bringing in a dish. And they were just so fun to make drinks for, so I knew I wanted to be part of the community immediately,” she says. And I asked, ‘How do I get in with this group of people? They’re so cool.”
She began volunteering on Sundays at Good Local Markets, which was housed at Half Price Books at the time. Usual responsibilities included staffing the info booth, helping set up and take down tents, and talking with customers.
After about three years at the Audubon Center, she moved to Seattle because “it was just time.” Within a month, she was hired as the operations manager for the Seattle Farmers Market Association.
A call from Sarah Perry, who founded Good Local Markets, came just in time, about six months after Cutler moved to the Pacific Northwest. It was winter, and Perry was offering Cutler an opportunity to take over the Dallas market.
“It’s really fun to visit, that’s for sure. But to live there — I was missing my sun,” she says.
Cutler became executive director in 2017, and covers the same tasks she had as a volunteer, plus more.
“They say you never work a day in your life when you love your job, but that is the biggest lie ever,” she says. “You work extra hard when you love your job, and you work all the time when you love your job; it’s all-encompassing and all-consuming when you love your job.”
Cutler is responsible for setting up and taking down markets each weekend. She ensures there’s electricity, manages marketing, grant writing and food-access programs, like SNAP. She visits every farm and ranch that sells at Good Local Markets to make sure they’re growing or raising their own food, and to remind herself who she’s working for, she says.
The White Rock Farmers Market has a capacity of 38 vendors, including farmers and artisans, and Lakewood can hold up to 35. Most of the 15 farms are woman-owned, Cutler says, and all of them have to be located within 150 miles of Dallas.
“I think the appeal of why people come to our market is because they know we’re local only,” she says. “White Rock has been around for 14 years, so some of our customers have been coming for that long and have relationships with their farmers.”
Cutler says most of what she buys for her family — her husband, 2-year-old and 9-year old — comes from the markets. When she used to live in East Dallas, she would feel embarrassed if she ever saw customers while she was shopping at the Lakewood Whole Foods Market.
“I wear I buy everything at the market. I just have to get pasta,” she would say.
During time as executive director, Cutler has made a handful of changes to Good Local. One of the first acts was firing her future husband, who then became a volunteer. She instituted a program of matching SNAP dollars and started the market near Lakewood Village Shopping Center in 2019, weeks before her wedding. And she bought a company van to hold and transport market tents, tables and signs.
Cutler is taking a new job at McKinney Roots, a food-donation garden, after about five years running Good Local Markets.
“I also think people don’t realize how much work goes behind the market and how hard we work for our farmers and our businesses to set up,” she says. “I think the market should be there forever.”