In a food desert, near Hobby Airport, is an urban oasis with a gathering barn, a chef's garden and fields of fresh vegetables growing in the hot, humid climate a few minutes south of downtown Houston. Hope Farms is the culmination of Gracie and Bob Cavnar's efforts to provide fresh produce to the Sunnyside neighborhood which lies in an area under-served by grocery stores and quality restaurants.
Cavnar, a glowing, pretty redhead is Founder and CEO of the non-profit Recipe for Success, which began in 2005 with a mission to combat childhood obesity. The charity's goal is to educate children about nutritional food while helping them appreciate its quality at the same time. Its Seed to Plate Nutrition Education initiative began as a curriculum for schools to teach children about healthy eating while sticking to TEKS and Core Curriculum. It was initiated in several Houston schools and continues to grow nationwide. The foundation also created Farmers MarKIDS which is a downloadable curriculum toolkit explaining sustainable vegetable gardening and marketing skills to children who may want to start their own gardens and farm stands.
Cavnar has also written the first in a series of children's cookbooks, Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo which has received acclaim and exposure on a national level. The organization recently instituted a Veg Out! 30 Ways in 30 Days Challenge. Local chefs and celebrities, hospitals and surrounding organizations have participated in the challenge for each person to eat 30 different vegetables over 30 days. There's even a VegOut! badge for Girl Scouts who successfully complete the mission. You can register online at the foundation's website to participate.
In 2006, Cavnar, along with Houston chef Monica Pope, began a Chefs Advisory Board which includes familiar names such as Kiran Verma, Chris Shepherd, Kevin Naderi and Stephanie Hoban, among many others.
Another important aspect of the Foundation's work is its training program for U. S. Veterans. With a recent three-year, one million dollar grant from the USDA, Hope Farms is a small business stepping stone, teaching veterans how to be urban "agripreneurs" as paid trainees who learn sustainable horticulture, farm accounting, marketing and other skills to prepare them for workforce readiness. With mentorship from members of the Houston business community, the foundation hopes to create more small footprint farms that can utilize urban property that is not currently being used and also to provide fresh produce in the food deserts that exist in many urban areas.
In addition, the farm hosts summer camps for children ages 8 to 12 years. The Marco Polo Summer Camp runs June 17-21. The Eat This Camp runs June 24-28 and the Super Foods Camp goes July 8-12. The camps are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include snacks, meals and supplies for $395.
The farm has a weekly Saturday morning produce stand, 9 a.m. to noon selling its fresh produce to the public. Veggie lovers can purchase Hope Farm Shares, a weekly share of fresh farm produce done in 13 week seasons. The next season begins July 2. Check out Hope Farm's website for information regarding purchase.
Recipe For Success also regularly holds dinners and events to raise funds for the foundation and its various enterprises. The Chefs in the Field series began in April 2018, with the first dinner created by Ryan Pera, Greg Martin and Jean-Philippe Gaston. The most recent Chefs in the Field was April 7 with Kevin Naderi of Roost, Rakesh Nayak of Common Bond and Jeff Auld of On the Kirb. The chefs created a stunning three course meal held in the Gathering Barn under the yellow glow from a string of bulbs overhead, creating a drool-worthy scene so often played out in travel and cooking shows.
Roasted beets with sous vide baby carrots topped with goat cheese by Auld was a standout dish (a surprise to a writer who has never been fond of beets or goat cheese, but had seconds). Nayak's green apple dessert had guests oohing and aahing before it was even tasted and the oohing and aahing got louder as guests dug into the caramel apple filled almond cake inside. Naderi's smoked duck breast was made even more wonderful by the smoked yogurt, every tasty drop swiped up with the spring vegetables. Each chef created an amuse bouche, Common Bond provided the gorgeous bread service and the "interlude" of Dairy Maids Cheeses with Hive Bee honey was a " I don't think I can eat another bite, but OMG, those cheeses!" moment for everyone. The crudites were provided by Hope Farms. Let's just say the roasted rainbow carrots strips that were served are now a regular fixture at this writer's table.
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If this makes you fantasize about dining in a gorgeous barn, savoring delicious food cooked by Houston's most talented artisans, you are in luck. The next Chef in the Fields dinner will be held at Hope Farms June 17 at 6:30 p.m. All of the proceeds from the ticket sales will go to the foundation. The theme for the evening is "Tomato Tribute" beginning with cocktails in the Chef's Garden and a tomato tasting of the multitude of heirloom varieties grown at the farm. There will be craft cocktails provided by Treaty Oak Distillery. At dusk, guests who are staying for the three course dinner will be seated in the Gathering Barn where the tablescape will be inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's art, with blue and white linens, vintage silver cutlery and bright yellow sunflowers from the fields. The courses will be created by Dylan Murray of Local Foods and benjy's, Ben McPherson of BOH Pasta and Pizza (soon to open at Bravery Chef Hall) and Troy Guard, the renowned Denver chef who is opening a Houston location of his steakhouse, Guard and Grace, this fall. It's a chance to fulfill your farm to table fantasies while contributing to Cavnar's mission to make eating a healthy pleasure for everyone.
Recipe for Success Tomato Tribute Dinner
$75 for cocktails and tomato tasting
$250 for 3-course dinner with wine and beverage pairings
For tickets: info@recipe4success. org or call 713-520-0443