The Urban Harvest Farmers Market has been in operation for ten years. The non-profit organization, Urban Harvest, was started 20 years ago in 1994, but over the past decade, the farmers markets (Saturdays at Eastside and Wednesdays at City Hall) have become the place to buy fresh vegetables, support local businesses and eat scrumptious food.
Market manager, Tyler Horne, says the growth process of the markets has definitely been slow and steady. Over the years the vendor lineup has expanded and improved, drawing more customers each weekend and Wednesday afternoon.
"Now with such an incredible lineup of vendors, it's established itself as the best place to go and spend a Saturday morning to shop for fresh vegetables and it encompasses so many other things than just shopping," Horne says. "We've got non-profits out there; we've got chefs; we've got live music; it's just the place you can go to get plugged in to what's going on in the community as well."
And what better way to reflect on the past ten years and celebrate the market's successes than by throwing a 10 Year Anniversary Fundraiser Dinner featuring local chefs and farmers? On Sunday, November 9, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., Houston chefs paired with a specific farm featured at the market will each prepare a special dish to serve to guests at Underbelly. Chef Chris Shepherd has been a long-time supporter of local farms and the Urban Harvest farmers market, so it's fitting that his restaurant is the venue for this anniversary celebration.
"They came to us and said we want to do something, so I was like let's just have a big ass party," Shepherd says. "Why would you not want to come to a big ass party? That was where it kind of went along with -- let's do this; let's put some chefs together with the farms; let's have some beer; let's have some wine; let's just have a really good time to celebrate Urban Harvest and all that they do."
Urban Harvest asked chefs who frequently shop at the market and support local farms to participate in the dinner. Once the chefs were selected, they paired each with a specific farm based on their culinary expertise and specialty. Aracan's Ara Malekian loves roasting whole pigs, so it was a no-brainer decision for Urban Harvest to pair him with pork vendor, Harrison Hog Farm. Vegan baker Dylan Carnes of Sinfull Bakery is working with Gundermann Acres to make a vegan sweet potato pie topped with candied pecans.
"We're partnering German Mosqueria from One Love Juice Bar with a farm that works with year-round fruit at our market [Lightsey Farms]," Horne says. "And this time of year, they have got persimmons and I think it's going to be part of the challenge for him to make a really good tasting persimmon juice because I don't think people typically think about eating persimmons as juice."
Shepherd will be preparing a dish with Plant It Forward Farms. David Leftwich, publisher of Sugar & Rice, along with Hunky Dory's Richard Knight and Down House's Benjy Mason will be cooking a dish with produce from Knopp Branch Farms. Dylan Murray of Benjy's and Local Foods is partnered with Atkinson Farms and Currant Kitchen's Soren Pederson is working with Blue Heron Farms.
"And Soren, he's incredible," Horne says. "One of the things that he does, he is at the farmers market every single Saturday and goes in the morning, and he and I walk around and pick things that are in season; he shows people really simple preparations of how you can make like a persimmon jam and he hands out samples. He's got an up-in-coming restaurant; he's amazing. I couldn't think of anyone else that I would want to work with."
All beer and wine will be provided by Texas breweries and wineries, such as Saint Arnold Brewing Co. and a fairly new brewery based out of Austin, Oasis Texas Brewing Company. Moravian Winery currently sells at the market on Saturdays and will provide the vino for the evening.
Each ticket costs $150 and not only gets you into the event, but it also covers your food, beer/wine, tax and gratuity; all proceeds will benefit local family farms and Urban Harvest. Purchase your tickets online or call Urban Harvest as soon as you can because the dinner is expected to sell out quickly.
Chefs will be stationed in tents in the back of Underbelly to serve their food to guests. Essentially, everyone will walk to the back, collect the food they want to eat, then sit down wherever they please. Don't expect this to be a formal sit-down dinner. It's a time to mix and mingle with the chefs and other guests, and to celebrate all that Urban Harvest has accomplished.
"If they [Urban Harvest] hadn't been on the farming movement, we wouldn't have all of these farmers," Shepherd says. "It would have been like still back in the day when we had to go out and search for our farms and hope that we could find somebody that could work with us. But now they have brought it to the forefront and you start to see all of these small farmers that we didn't ever have before, and start producing products for restaurants and home-users alike. They have grown and grown the market share for us so dramatically as far as chefs go to have these products we wouldn't have had years before."
Executive director of Urban Harvest, Sandra Wicoff, wants people to know that Urban Harvest encompasses more than just a farmers market and that this is a fundraiser for the non-profit as a whole.
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"We just want to let people know what it is benefiting -- we have this fabulous youth education program and gardening education classes for adults and we've got a huge connection of community gardens that we offer support for," Wicoff says. "Everything we do is to encourage people to grow food and eat local food; we encourage community, good nutrition and sustainability."
In the past year, Urban Harvest has provided hands-on gardening/nutrition education to more than 3,600 students and supported more than 30 youth affiliate gardens. For the Houston community gardens, the non-profit has served 105 affiliate gardens and added 15 more in this year; 24 of these gardens donated more than 60,000 pounds of food to food banks, homeless shelters and food pantries in the city. Urban Harvest also taught more than 1,500 people about organic gardening and offered nearly 100 classes on various gardening subjects. And that's just a glimpse at the organization's involvement this year in the Houston community outside of its weekly farmers markets.
Both the Saturday and City Hall markets provide a venue for 90 small businesses, and 40 of those are local farms.
"We are hoping to have a great turnout, maybe 180 people or so, maybe a little more," Horne says. "Really it gives our farmers a chance to interact with new restaurants and chefs, so I think from the indirect part, not only are the farmers benefiting because we're buying all of the produce from them for the dinner for all of these people, but we are also hoping to make new connections with some of these restaurateurs."