Farmers On the Move
Urban Harvest’s weekly farmers market has been a staple of the local food community for 15 years. Professional chefs and consumers alike use it to both buy produce and spend time with their neighbors.
While the location at Eastside and Richmond has served the market well, it has grown too small. Parking is limited by Kirby Ice House, and the market has far more applications for vendors than it can accommodate.
To alleviate the problem, Urban Harvest will relocate the market to St. John’s School’s parking lot at the corner of Buffalo Speedway and Westheimer beginning Saturday, September 22. The move gives the market 50-percent more space for vendors and an adjacent parking garage provides 600 spaces.
“Our new strategic plan focuses on expanding farmers market outreach and programs,” said Urban Harvest executive director Janna Roberson in a statement. “The new location allows us to offer expanded programs, products and events, ultimately connecting our farmers to clients and creating a dependable economic source of support to local farms.”
The Morgan Group, the company that owns the Eastside lot, will be sad to lose Urban Harvest as a tenant, but Kirby Ice House’s success has brought unintended issues for the weekly market. Bar patrons who wisely opt not to drive home after a night out leave their cars in spaces that go to booths, and the beginning of college football season means more people arriving before the market ends. Moving to St. John’s means all parties can pursue their goals without further conflict.
“We have enjoyed being a partner with Urban Harvest as they’ve grown the Saturday market into the largest producers-only farmers market in the city,” added Philip Morgan, The Morgan Group’s senior vice president for development. “We recognize that with success also comes growth, and wish them the best as they take the market to the next level at their new location.”
Estimates place the market’s annual economic impact at almost $3 million. All vendors must come from within 180 miles of Houston, and one-in-five generate over 50-percent of their income from sales at the market. Vendors like the Grateful Bread, Blue Heron Farm, and Maison Burdisso have become stars of the local food community. Gundermann Acres owners Stacie and Garrett Gundermann have been able to grow their farm from 90 acres to 500 thanks in part to purchases made at the market.
“We hope to expand the offerings in all of our categories,” Urban Harvest market manager Tyler Horne tells CultureMap. “Our model for growth is slow and steady so our customer base grows to supports the vendor base. We carefully curate the process to make sure that our vendor offerings are meeting our customers’ needs.“
Some of Houston’s most prominent chefs, such as Chris Shepherd (Underbelly Hospitality), Hugo Ortega (H-Town Restaurant Group), and Justin Yu (Theodore Rex, Better Luck Tomorrow) are among those customers. They’ll get dedicated parking spots to make picking up large orders easier.
“My wife Tracy — a St. John’s graduate — and I have been supporters of the Urban Harvest Farmers Market since the beginning, when it was called the Bayou City Farmers Market,” Ortega said. “In addition to supporting area farmers and producers and getting great local products, it’s fun to spend a Saturday morning wandering the market with a coffee in my hand, a large bag for collecting my discoveries, finding new vendors and speaking with other chefs and Houstonians. It is a true community feeling, and I love that.”
In addition to easier parking and more vendors, better visibility at a major intersection should make it easier for newcomers to find. Horne adds that market patrons can also look forward to more cooking classes and special events like Citrus Fest, where people can sample up to 30 varieties of locally-grown produce.
The market had long ago outgrown its current space. Moving to St. John’s brings a lot of benefits. Change will always be disruptive, but hopefully the new location will facilitate another 15 years of growth.