Pedaling Through Houston’s Ever Evolving Farmers Markets

By Kelly Howard

It was the year 2000, and I’m riding my bike through Montrose. Off to my left, I see a nice little porch with boxes and boxes of vegetables and a small crowd of people checking them out. I had to stop to find out what was going on. This was the first time I met Pat Greer, the founder of Houston’s first organic co-op, Central City Co-op.

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I was so excited to find something like this in Houston. Fourteen years ago, in Houston, there wasn’t much to be found on the organic or vegetarian frontier except for Whole Foods. I ordered what was called a “Gundermann’s Share” (the name comes from Gundermann Farm which is probably the largest farm of organic veggies in the area). Having no idea what I was getting, I ordered the “large share.” Now, I eat a lot of veggies, but what I got was the biggest box of greens I had ever seen in my life. I had no idea what some of them were. I was literally “dealing greens” out of the back of my jeep to any of my friends who would have them.

I was sold on Pat’s market and became a regular. Eventually additional sources and small little home based markets started cropping up around the city, and I would ride my bike from one to another on the weekends. Each porch and market I came across had something the one before did not. It was the most delightful grocery shopping I had experienced in a long time.

At the same time we moved away from Montrose, I took over Bayou City Outdoors. Having a new event business, I was always looking for fun things to do around Houston. I started reminiscing on how great and fun it was riding to vegetable stands and front porches, cruising around Houston in search of hidden vegetable treasures. I decided that we should add a farmers market ride to the BCO calendar. Phil laughed at me. “No one wants to ride their bike to shop for veggies,” he warned me. Unfortunately, he was right about the first few rides. The very first one I had two people join me. The second ride there may have been 5 of us. It really struck a note though, and over the next year, the ride grew a little bigger each time. We had to start limiting the ride size when we had 150 riders show up one Saturday. At that time Onion Creek on White Oak Dr. had a thriving little market so, we’d meet there and ride over to Urban Harvest Market on Eastside. Saturday markets and enthusiasts came and went. Over the years, we’ve seen markets pop in in Mid-town, Discovery Green, Heights, and Montrose. They’ve taken place at churches, coffee shops parking lots, and everything in between.

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These days, Houston has farmers markets almost every day of the week and all over the city. In addition to the markets, we have numerous co-ops (also know as CSA’s) around the city where members purchase weekly shares that are usually grown locally. Members also help make decisions for the co-op. Urban Harvest, the granddaddy of the Houston organic growing scene, has made a really strong push in the right direction for healthy Houstonians. They hold classes in gardening year round, help grow and support over 100 community gardens in our city, teach gardening and nutrition to our local children, and hold an amazing fruit tree sale each January. Health is wealth, and Urban Harvest is trying hard to make us not forget that.

What emerged from a few friends on a porch has now developed into a visionaries who seek to promote knowledgeable gardening all across our huge metropolis. Because a few Houstonians believed that organic really is better, organic life has turned into an amazingly vibrant culture in our city.

As for me? I still think the best way to visit a farmers market is on my bike — hope you join me for ride. BCO’s next Farmers Market Ride is Saturday Morning, September 13.

Want more information on Houston’s organic scene? Click here for “Fresh Ideas” a list of markets, community gardens, “pick your own” farms, organic restaurants, and other local treasures.

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