Veggie Heaven

Farmers' markets take over Houston.

There was a time when Houstonians on the prowl for farm-fresh produce were limited to produce stands on the side of country roads or to the vast lots behind Canino's Produce on Airline, which is composed primarily of food flown or trucked in from other areas.

The recent proliferation of farmers' markets in the city, beginning with the Houston Farmers' Market in 2003, has marked a change in the way that Houstonians are buying and thinking about their food. In a world concerned with the environmental impact of mass-farmed foods and the health impact of poor diets, it's become more important than ever to get your food fresh and local.

Farmers' markets around Houston offer more now than ever, from seasonal fruits and vegetables to freshly butchered meat, hand-gathered yard eggs and local honey. Although there isn't one large, coherent farmers' market in town, it just means more selections at the market nearest you.

Take our guide to Houston's best farmers' markets with you before you head out the door this weekend, and you're guaranteed to have a happy, healthy shopping trip.

Houston Farmers' Market

The grand dame in town, this bustling market sets up on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. until noon next to popular Heights eatery Onion Creek, and parking is hard to come by. We recommend bicycling if at all possible.

Vendors change weekly but routinely feature cheese from the Houston Dairy Maids, produce from Gundermann Farms, Dustin's Eggs, goat milk and yogurt from Swede Farm Dairy, grass-fed beef and poultry from Village Botanica, and dog treats from Woofalicious Pet Bakery.

On Tuesday afternoons, you can find the Houston Farmers' Market at a secondary location in the Rice University stadium's parking lot from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Although many vendors complain about the heat from the blacktop, it's one of the only farmers' markets to operate on a weekday.

Bayou City Farmers' Market

By far the largest in town, this market just off Richmond has the same hours as most of the big players in town: 8 a.m. to noon. Use it to your advantage and hit all three major markets in one morning.

Operated by local nonprofit Urban Harvest since its inception in 2004, this market supports urban farms and gardens by giving the farmers a place to sell their produce alongside other vendors' vegetables, meats, fish and ready-made food. Summer sees events like the annual Tomato Fest in July. Additionally, Urban Harvest offers classes on starting a garden of your own (either at home or in your community) and how to sell your items at the market.

Midtown Farmers' Market

Started by pioneering chef Monica Pope in the parking lot of her restaurant t'afia, off Travis, this market also takes place on — you guessed it! — Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. till noon. While small, the market is potent in its selection and conveniences. If you're lucky enough to live near the light rail, you can take it to the Ensemble Theatre stop and get all your marketing done that morning, then stop for breakfast at t'afia or Tacos a Go-Go afterwards.

The outdoor portion of Midtown Farmers' Market offers the standard array of produce, meat and eggs, in addition to the best knife sharpener in town, who'll sharpen all your kitchen knives for you while you shop. The indoor portion plays host to ready-made food vendors like the popular Nisha's Quick 'n' Ezee Indian Food and Trentino Gelato. As an added bonus, you can take a free cooking class from Pope herself every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at her Green Plum Cooking school.

Green Market at Discovery Green

Folks living downtown no longer have a reason not to buy fresh: Urban park Discovery Green hosts its own farmers' market on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Created by Central City Co-op, it's the newest and smallest market in town but has great potential. Because the limited amount of produce is available on a first-come, first-served basis, it runs out quickly. However, smart shoppers can preorder and prepay online at Central City Co-op's Web site and pick up their orders on Sunday. There's also prepared foodstuffs like the pimiento cheese from Words and Food. Don't forget to take advantage of such fun services as free bike repair and the nearby playground and fountains for the kids.

On the Decks
Work on that tan (and a margarita) while relaxing on one or all of these sunny patios around town.

Backstreet Cafe (1103 S. Shepherd): The granddaddy of them all, this sprawling, oak-shaded patio is widely hailed as one of the best in town and with good reason: It's just flat-out gorgeous.

The Black Labrador / Kraftsmen Baking (4100 Montrose): The shared patio between these two popular spots meanders soothingly along the shady, ivy-lined walls of an old church that now houses the Montrose Public Library, two restaurants and a jazz club.

Cedar Creek (1034 W. 20th St.): Low on funds? Pretend you're in Austin at this Heights-area watering hole and save your gas money for cold beers while you pitch horseshoes or sit by the fire pit.

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