Saturday morning farmers' markets have sprouted quicker than, well, sprouts. Six years ago there were none in the city. Now there are four serious contenders—all functioning on the same day and almost at the same time. If Houston were an East Coast city where citizens are pedestrians and public transportation more functional, the four markets would be considered almost within walking distance of each other.
Overkill? I don’t think so. This is a big city and everyone’s gotta eat. Competition is good.
The farmer markets are dear to me—and not just because they're my main source of income as vendor at two of the Saturday markets. They are treasures, connecting growers and farmers with inner city dwellers and giving Houstonians a choice of eating local, just-picked produce, farm fresh eggs, grass-fed meats, wild-caught seafood and locally-made cheeses.
Here’s a low-down on what’s what, from my slanted perspective.
Same Market, New Name
Urban Harvest Farmers Market is the new name for the Bayou City Farmers Market (which many refer to as the Eastside Market because it's located on Eastside Street, further confusing the issue). This market, which has been in existence for five-plus years and is sponsored by Urban Harvest, is the biggest and busiest, with around 45 vendors on any given Saturday.
Latest additions include several food concessions so those too hungry to wait to get home can chow down. More concessions are on the way and one has moved away. The very popular and ever-chatty Katz’s coffee guy, Charles “Mickey” Morales, has jumped ship, moving his operation and allegiance to the swanky new Highland Village Farmers Market. In his place Grizzaffi Coffee has moved in, offering espresso and cappuccino drinks, as well as brewed coffee. Seems funny to be addressing the morning coffee issue in a column about farmers markets, but judging by my customers’ comments, messing with one’s early morning cup of java is serious business.
Founded on the principles of organic and sustainable farming, Urban Harvest has opened the market to conventional growers as well, letting the buyer make the ultimate decision. Unique to UHFM, you'll find a community gardening table where city-dwelling, backyard growers can rent a space and sell their bumper crops.
Urban Harvest Farmers Market, 3000 Richmond Ave. at Eastside St., 8 a.m.–12 p.m. every Saturday
Highland Village Style
Though it seems an overnight phenomenon, the brand new Highland Village Farmers Market has been in the works for a while. “The CEO of Highland Village Holding Inc. [Haidar Barbouti] has always admired the fresh-air markets of Europe," says Highland Village Director of Publicity Shannon Price. "Three years ago, he decided that since Houston is a world-class city, it should have its own world-class market and from there, the development began.”
I'm not sure it is world class, but it is a sight to behold. Elegantly appointed, it reflects the nearby big dollar communities—Afton Oaks and River Oaks—it strives to attract. Designed by architects Osborne and Vane along with Richard Altuna of Los Angeles, it is the only market in the city with a purpose-built structure. Vendors do not need to lug and erect pop-up tents. Even stately looking wooden market tables are provided.
HVFM currently is the only Saturday market demanding produce growers practice either organic or sustainable methods. Those missing their Saturday cup of Katz’s java will find it here, as they will the popular Morales, who wears two hats now. He also reigns as market manager for HVFM.
Highland Village Farmers Market, behind 4801 Westheimer Rd., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. every Saturday
A New Address
Last month, the Houston Farmers' Market moved its small Saturday morning market from the confining quarters of the Onion Creek Café and Bar parking lot in the Heights to the corner of Greenbriar Street and University Boulevard. Manager Carol “CJ” Claverie reports that the market needed more room and more parking. HFM also operates the only inside-the-loop weekday market on Tuesdays.
“At community and Medical Center events, we heard over and over from Rice Village residents that they love having a farmers market in their neighborhood but the midweek hours do not work because of their work schedules," says Claverie. "Once again Rice University stepped forward and offered additional space with supporting services for a Saturday market. For a small non-profit with limited resources such as Houston Farmers’ Market, it was an obvious choice to expand from its existing base of support and move the market.”
With plenty of grassy space to spread blankets, customers are encouraged to linger and picnic. Saturday morning cooking demonstrations and live music are additional draws. The Saturday market has between 15-20 vendors, a few unique to that location, such as Harrison Hog Farms.
Houston Farmer’s Market, corner Greenbriar St. and University Blvd., 8 a.m.–12 p.m. every Saturday; Rice University south stadium parking lot, 3:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m. every Tuesday
Famed chef Monica Pope of t'afia wanted a farmers market, so she made her own. Just about the same time that Urban Harvest got started, Midtown Farmers Market opened, serving trendy Midtown dwellers and acting as a gathering spot for hip Houston chefs and foodies.
Every Saturday Pope throws open the doors of her restaurant to vendors, while others pitch their tents outside, making hers the only indoor/outdoor event in town. There are hot breakfast items to be had as well as farm fresh goodies to take home.
Vendor Al Marcus of The Grateful Bread feels that of all the markets in town, Midtown is the most encouraging to new unique vendors. He calls it an “incubator market” with Pope willing to give new unproven prepared food vendors a shot.
And Pope takes care of her customers. Not sure on how to cook that kale? Every week she checks with her vendors to see what’s in season. Then she creates a class through her Green Plum Cooking School. Pre-registration is required but the informative class is free on Saturday mornings.
Midtown Farmers Market is the only market in town to serve adult libations. Mimosas are available and Austin’s Tito's Handmade Vodka frequently samples. Also unique to this location, local crafts of quality.
Midtown Farmers Market, 3701 Travis St., 8 a.m.–12 p.m. every Saturday
So Houstonians, you've got plenty of choices. Hop on the bandwagon and decide which market to support. Lots of choices benefit everyone. To my fellow vendors concerned about loss income due to competition—my advice is to up your game.
Editors Note: A while back Janice Schindeler carved out a new career when she left full-time journalism to cook and sell home-prepared food at farmers' markets. She makes a killer pimiento cheese.