Tit for tat

The dirt on Discovery Green farmers market takeover

The dirt on Discovery Green farmers market takeover

On any given Sunday, Discovery Green is alive with music performances, couples walking among public art and children dancing in water sculptures. It's a vibrant scene — except for a scant row of stalls hawking wilted vegetables along the Andrea and Bill White Promenade.

This is the Downtown Green Market, a farmers market operated by Central City Co-Op, an organization that also manages a successful Wednesday Market at Grace Lutheran church in Montrose. The current downtown establishment may have been a sight for sore eyes, but there are seeds of change on the horizon, as the market will soon be taken over by the organization Urban Harvest, which is celebrated for their bustling Saturday market on Richmond and Eastside St.

The trade is the result of a plethora of colliding factors affecting Central City. Business at the main co-op has grown twofold over the past year, and the organization's permit at Discovery Green was up for renewal at the end of March. In the past three weeks, market operator for Central City Co-Op Sarah Eakens decided to resign from her position to pursue independent work in gardening and farms. Explains Central City Co-Op Chairman Tiffany Tyler, "Being involved in the Discovery Green market has been a tremendous adventure for us. Being a market manager is a tough job, and we don't have the power or resources to do both jobs well."

"For the organization, this was an opportunity to take a good look, and it was decided that there was not as much synergy to have a coop market and a downtown farmers market," says Susanne Theis of Discovery Green. "They don't make each other stronger.

"Central City's Tiffany Tyler was very sad about the decision, but heartily recommended that Discovery Green open discussions with Urban Harvest, which is in a very different place than when the park opened in 2008. It seemed like a nonprofit that already has a market was ideal originally, but Central City is now in a different administrative place."

Is that code for, "It's not me, it's you"?

"Central City's firm commitment to being completely organic was not accessible to Discovery Green's wide audience," Theis says. Urban Harvest works with both organic and conventional farmers, all within a range of 150 miles from the city. This domain includes 65 community gardens and a larger number of casual hobbyists. Discovery Green found appealing Urban Harvest's synergy of community initiatives, education classes for the public and transportation of green waste to a nearby facility at Jensen Dr. and Lyons Ave.

The market intends to work in conjunction with downtown and midtown restaurants, starting with a partnership with The Grove — think themed seasonal meals and roof-top cooking classes.

"Central City laid a very good foundation to build on," Urban Harvest Executive Director Mark Bowen says. "All of the current vendors are considered to be a very valuable part of the fabric going forward."

Adds Bowen, "Urban Harvest intends to slowly add vendors in a complementary way." By expanding operations beyond their Eastside market, Urban Harvest will be able to diffuse costs, develop more support and empower more farmers who are shut out of the current Eastside market simply due to space restrictions. Bowen envisions the expanded downtown satellite as a "farm incubator network," creating local jobs for the anticipated participation of 100 vendors. Urban Harvest is aiming for an "organic growth process" (pun intended?). The current artisan craft vendors at Discovery Green will remain.

The change in administration officially takes place this Sunday. The market will maintain hours from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays, complementing the Saturday morning schedule of the Eastside market.

"We're anticipating a comfortable, easy transition," Theis says.

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Urban Harvest takes on Discovery Green on Earth Day.
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Discovery Green gets a little greener. Courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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Expect up to 100 vendors in the future. Courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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