For years and years, they said it couldn’t be done. Although other coastal cities had flourishing farmers markets, back in the ’80s and ’90s, Houston couldn’t sustain one. So interested local chefs, of which there were only a few, made do. Occasionally, somebody would show up to a restaurant’s back door with a bunch of greens dotted with snails, or a bushel of homegrown squash. Chefs would buy it all up and change their menus accordingly.

Local chef Jason Kerr, who’s made a career of sourcing farmers market goods for Houston-area restaurants, tells a story about local organic pioneers Animal Farm, from Cat Springs, turning up with a life-changing bunch of zucchini. “They grew so many they didn’t know what to do with them,” he laughs. “They brought them in, and everyone kind of lost their mind about these vegetables. They were so good, so much better than anything you could get at the time. Back then all those vegetables, in and out of season, were coming from California and Mexico, everywhere but Texas.”

Cooking with fresh, local produce was a revelation to Kerr. Carrots, he explains, tasted like carrots; everything, it seemed, was more vibrant. “When you buy a lot of conventional vegetables, they’re muted,” he explains. “Big agriculture tends to kind of lose some of those flavors and textures.” Nevertheless, he remembers, for a long time, Houstonians just didn’t get it.

Early attempts at starting farmers markets here crashed and burned. In the ’90s, Animal Farm’s Gita Van Woerden tried to start one in the parking lot of A Moveable Feast, the old, Montrose-area veggie-centric restaurant. “We got four or five vendors,” she recalls, “and one afternoon, we put up our tents and tables, and we displayed our vegetables, and people were coming to eat at the restaurant. They would come by and look at the produce and say, ‘Wow, what beautiful produce.’ But it didn’t occur to them that maybe they should buy it. So it was really very frustrating. … After two months, we’d had enough.”

Progress, though, was on the horizon, as attitudes slowly changed and area farmers realized there was a market for foods beyond cash crops like soy and corn. “Every time somebody tried to do a farmers market and it failed,” says Kerr, “the next person was closer to succeeding.”

In the early 2000s, Houston Farmers Market took root at Onion Creek in The Heights (it would later become Rice University Farmers Market); Monica Pope, longtime leader of the city’s local-food movement, started the popular Midtown Farmers Market in the parking lot of her old restaurant t’afia; and, finally, after years of effort on the part of a lot of people who badly wanted it, came the big one, the Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market, which remains the largest and most successful example in the city. Other markets began to proliferate around town, and now, professional and home cooks alike have a world of fresh, seasonal produce and other homespun delicious things to eat.

Today, Van Woerden still grows organic produce at Animal Farm and sells it at local markets here and in Austin, while, among other things, Pope teaches a class)called Cooking Therapy, in which she leads groups on excursions to buy veggies at local markets, then demonstrates how to cook them. “I start the class by saying, ‘We used to not be able to cook like this, we used to not have the stuff. It didn’t exist.’ … I see these lightbulbs go off. They say, ‘Wait a minute, where would I get this arugula?’ I’m like, ‘There’s a farmers market right there!’” She chuckles, incredulous that decades later, there are still so many people out there to convert.

Kerr thinks continuing to convert Houstonians is a matter of simply getting people out to the markets to try locally grown veggies like Jerusalem artichokes, rainbow chard and baby rainbow carrots. “When you go to the farmers market and buy something that was grown 50 miles from where you’re standing,” he says, “that maybe came out of ground that morning, from somebody who loves what they do, you’re going to know. And it’s going to ruin other vegetables for you. That difference is huge. It’s like night and day.”

While produce will always—should always—be the main attraction at Houston’s farmers markets, there are now many, many other wonderful things on offer at all of them: things like sweet treats, cheeses, meats, jams, honeys, flowers, food trucks, live music, cooking demonstrations, crafts, artwork, homemade soaps, and, oh yes, likeminded Houstonians, making the rounds, chatting, tasting delicious things and savoring life.

To discover the very best of the city’s farmers market scene for our readers, we at Houstonia have explored this cornucopia of offerings. Whether you’re a market regular or a novice, you’ll discover something good in these pages, grown or raised or cooked or created by a person who lives not far away from you. However you feel about 2018 so far, that’s one reason to celebrate.

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Image: Todd Spoth

Our Favorite Farmers Markets

Bring your reusable canvas totes to these markets, our current crop of favorites.

Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

3000 Richmond Ave.

Open: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon, rain or shine

By far the city’s largest and busiest, this popular weekend morning market located across Richmond from Levy Park offers a sprawling selection of vendors.

Look for: Hattermann Poultry Farm’s eggs, Moravia Winery’s vino rosso, Kight’s corn and melons, Brazos Valley Cheese’s smoked gouda and white Cheddar, Bee Wilde’s honey

City Hall Farmers Market

901 Bagby St.

Open: Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

This work-friendly market centered around the City Hall reflecting pool offers a wide array of prepared meals to enjoy al fresco at lunch, food trucks, and fun items to take home for dinner.

Look for: Relished Africa’s beignets, Sturdivant Farm’s citrus fruits, Katerra Exotic’s ground bison

Memorial Villages Farmers Market

10840 Beinhorn Rd.

Open: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine

This picturesque market on the grounds of the First Congregational Church in Hunters Creek Village is as pretty as a postcard, replete with fresh produce, live music, fresh-brewed coffee, and barbecue breakfast tacos under the trees.

Look for: Swede Farm Dairy’s goat cheese and chocolate truffles, Mad Hectic Foods’ oatmeal, Grateful Bread’s bacon, Richardson Farms’ milk and eggs, Plant It Forward’s vegetables

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Image: Todd Spoth

Rice University Farmers Market

5600 Greenbriar Dr.

Open: Tuesdays, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., rain or shine

Chef demonstrations and beer tastings are just a few of the regular activities you’ll find at this bustling, 10-year-old market in the parking lot adjacent to Rice University’s football stadium.

Look for: Animal Farm’s produce, Blue Heron Farms’ chevre and feta cheese, Jolly Farms’ chicken, Maison Burdisso’s macarons, Shiner’s pork (from English Large Black heritage hogs)

Eleanora’s Market

2120 Ella Blvd.

Open: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, rain or shine

Shaded seating on the patio of Cavatore’s and live music invite you to sit and eat before you shop at this compact and well-curated Shady Acres market.

Look for: Nando’s Honey Bee Farm honey, La Petite Patisserie croissants and cookies, Gundermann Acres’ produce, Fabio’s fresh pasta, Hibiscus Hill Farms’ grass-fed beef

Westchase District Farmers Market

10503 Westheimer Rd.

Open: Thursdays, 3 to 6 p.m.

The parking lot at St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church hosts this busy weekday market just off Beltway 8 and Westheimer, making it an ideal pit stop for neighboring worker bees.

Look for: New Harvester Farm’s herbs, PEAS Farm’s tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, Circle H Angus Ranch’s grass-fed beef, Angela’s Oven’s baguettes

Tomball Farmers Market

205 W. Main St., Tomball

Open: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine

This farmers-first market of the super-charming, small-town variety gives local ranches and produce-purveyors top billing. (Pro-tip: Stroll downtown Tomball when you’re done.)

Look for: Edmonds Farms’ produce, Spring Hill Farms’ pasture-raised chicken and pork, Lil Emma’s fresh Gulf shrimp, Three Sisters Farm’s vegetables, Bull Nettle Ridge Farm’s honey 

The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill

7 Switchbud Place, The Woodlands

Open: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon

Sign up for the weekly newsletter that arrives every Friday morning so you’ll know exactly what to find at this market, which offers a rotating line-up of local vendors.

Look for: H20 Produce’s vegetables, Marchese Sausage Company’s Italian sausage, Texas Hill Country Olive Company’s olive oil, Tejas Heritage Farm’s free-range poultry, rabbit and wild boar

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Image: Todd Spoth

Now Is Good

Five veggies currently in season in the Houston area, and where to look for them.

1. Strawberries

You can pick your own at Atkinson Farms in Spring, or just head to a local farmers market to find these fresh, ripe, ruby-red strawberries.

Find it at: The Farmers Market at Bridgeland, Rice University Farmers Market, more

2. Blueberries

When the guys from the Berry Best Berry Farm in Silsbee show up, everyone always goes nuts for their delicious berries. Expect to wait in line.

Find it at: Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market, City Hall Farmers Market

3. Golden Cauliflower

This butter-colored cauliflower from Atkinson Farms is decidedly more attractive on the plate than its regular, old white cruciferous cousin.

Find it at: The Farmers Market at Bridgeland, Rice University Farmers Market, more

4. Golden Beets

These cheerful root vegetables are sweeter and milder than their ruby-red counterparts, and the beets from Atkinson Farms, well, can’t be beat.

Find it at: The Farmers Market at Bridgeland, Rice University Farmers Market, more

5. Lettuce

A head of crunchy Red Fire or sweet Oakleaf from hydroponic farm Sustainable Harvesters (sustainableharvesters.com) proves that really good lettuce can be complex, if not life-changing.

Find it at: Memorial Villages Farmers Market, more

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Image: Todd Spoth

Making a Meal of the Market

No one knows the Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market quite like local chef Jason Kerr. Over the years, he’s seen the place expand from a few booths to a bustling weekly social scene. A tireless champion of eating local, Kerr works as the Houston representative for Austin-based supplier Farm to Table, managing local deliveries, sourcing and sales.

When he has extra apples, he loves to hand them out at the market, so if you spy a gentleman with a mullet and a basket of fruit, be sure to say hello. Across, Kerr shares his recommendations for how to build a meal from nothing but the market’s wares.

Veggies: Animal Farm Permaculture Center

“When I started coming, this was just one table,” Kerr says of farmers Cas and Dita Van Woerden’s extra-large set-up of uncommon veggies including heirloom lettuce, chard, Japanese radishes and turnips, rainbow carrots and shiitake mushrooms—everything you need to make a surprising, colorful salad or side.

Pasta: Tavola Artisan Pasta

These colorful, hand-made  casarecce stained with beet juice are a festive inclusion in any meal. Kerr is a huge fan.

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Image: Todd Spoth

Fish: Airline Seafood

The freshest fish to come out of the Gulf—think snapper, flounder, grouper and redfish—sits in coolers at this seafood stalwart’s stand. Kerr is especially fond of the prepared delicacies like house-smoked fish, ceviche and gumbo.

Cheese: Blue Heron Farm

“Lisa is just the coolest,” Kerr says of Lisa Seger, who owns this Waller-area ethical goat dairy with her husband, Christian. Fans of her chèvre, feta and cajeta return to her stand again and again. The farm’s cheeky Twitter feed has many a devotee, as well.

Dessert: Eat My Pralines

Okay, the mind behind these sweet treats is Kerr’s girlfriend, Becca Reyenga, with whom he often collaborates on field-to-fork dinners under the moniker Lowfi Praline. But her praline bread pudding with Bourbon sauce, cocoa-suffused Bourbon balls, and six varieties of pralines—especially the walnut-ginger—are all lovable on their own merits.

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Image: Shutterstock

A Tree Grows in Texas

Five foods we bet you didn't know were local.

Japanese turnips

What it is: These tender little turnips have a mild, mellow flavor that’s best paired with miso paste, perfect for roasting and sautéing.

Where to get it: The Animal Farm stands at the Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market or Rice University Farmers Market.

When: Fall

Purple sweet potatoes

What it is: Hard-to-find purple sweet potatoes have more antioxidants than the standard orange spuds, though they take longer to cook (and are best roasted).

Where to get it: Gundermann Acres (979-533-2027), which sets up at multiple area farmers markets, should have these beauties again this autumn once they fully recover from Hurricane Harvey’s flooding of their farmland.

When: Fall

Sugar cane

What it is: Want to make your own sugar? This exotic grass is perennially sprouting right in the city at one of Plant It Forward’s many urban farms. And you don’t really have to be in the milling biz—the cane itself is a fun sweet treat.

Where to get it: The network of farmers sells their produce across the city, including at the Heights Epicurean Farmers Market and the Chimney Rock Market.

When: Winter and Spring

Thai eggplant

What it is: This golf ball–sized eggplant is excellent in, you guessed it, Thai curries, but unlike other varieties, it can also be enjoyed raw in salads or alongside spicy dips.

Where to get it: In your CSA box from Loam Agronomics, which also sets up at Urban Harvest East Side Market and Eleanora Farmers Market.

When: Summer

Moringa Oleifera

What it is: This fast-growing tree thrives in Houston, producing highly nutritious leaves with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can be sautéed like spinach or blended into juice.

Where to get it: Pick up a bag of your own super leaves from Finca Tres Robles, a one-acre urban farm in the East End, or at the Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market.

When: Summer and Fall

Buddha’s Hand

What it is: This tentacle-like citrus from east Asia isn’t just a popular religious offering, it’s a floral-scented replacement for lemon or yuzu in any recipe.

Where to get it: Janice Schindeler of Words & Food sells hers alongside her much-celebrated pimento cheese, hummus and other goodies at the Rice University Farmers Market.

When: Winter and Spring

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Image: Todd Spoth

Treat Yourself

It’s tough to leave any of Houston’s farmers markets with just fruits and veggies in your bag when there are so many other delicious things on offer. These are a few of our favorite purveyors of treats we can’t seem to quit.

Angela’s Oven

For some Houstonians, it’s tough to remember a time before bakers Jerry and Angela Shawn began gracing local coffee shop cases with their peach danishes and almond croissants. That’s not all they do well, either: cranberry-walnut bread great for morning toast, tart sourdough loaves, and buttery brioche are among our favorites.

Find it at: Memorial Villages Farmers Market, Rice University Farmers Market, The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill, Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

Sinfull Bakery

These dairy- and egg-free cookies, pies, cupcakes and cinnamon rolls have fans far beyond their target vegan audience, simply because they’re so—pardon the pun—sinfully good, you’d never know anything was missing. Owner and head pastry chef Dylan Carnes has added equally popular gluten-free options since launching the bakery in 2010, including chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies.

Find it at: Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market, City Hall Farmers Market 

Garden Dreams Houston

Your great-aunt in East Texas didn’t make mayhaw jelly or wild plum jam this good, and she probably didn’t win as many awards as this family-run farm in Groves has over the years, either. Unique creations like satsuma-and-grapefruit marmalade, hibiscus jelly, and Cajun-spiced “drunken tomato jam” speak to its Golden Triangle roots.

Find it at: Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

The Grateful Bread

Local pioneer Al Marcus—father of 8th Wonder Brewery and Eatsie Boys co-founder Matt—uses his living-legend status to do whatever the heck he wants. On a given day, you might find his low-and-slow pulled pork or barbecue brisket and smoked cheese, along with one of his latest obsessions, like tart cherry mustard or alder-smoked Jurassic salt.

Find it at: Memorial Villages Farmers Market, Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

Scotty’s Stout Sauerkraut

There are no preservatives here, just natural and delicious sauerkraut (in caraway seed and garlic varieties), kimchi, and fermented vegetables, all made by hand.

Find it at: Rice University Farmers Market, Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

Honeychild’s Sweet Creams

Kathleen Morgan uses local ingredients to make her seasonal frozen custards in flavors ranging from sweet corn to persimmon. It’s no surprise they’re served at some of Houston’s best restaurants, including One Fifth and Alice Blue.

Find it at: Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market, Bellville Farmers Market

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Truck-to-Market

Food trucks post up to most area farmers markets, surrounding shoppers with even more delicious options. But they’re not all created equal. Here’s five you won’t want to miss.

Churrasco Food Truck & Catering

Oscar Santaella loves flesh, and lots of it. His Brazilian burgers are made with the same freshly roasted, hand-carved meats you’ll find at your favorite churrascaria. Muslim customers can take advantage of halal cuts, and everyone should order a sweet can of Guarana soda.

Find it at: City Hall Farmers Market 

Food Music Life

You’ll know this truck by its elaborate and colorful mural of a woman embracing a chicken and a peacock. The menu changes depending on what’s in season at the market, but think risotto with local okra and arugula, or pulled pork over polenta.

Find it at: City Hall Farmers Market

Breaking Bao

Few foods are more addictive than Taiwanese gua bao. Owner Phillip Kim stuffs his soft, warm steamed buns with traditional pork belly and pickled mustard greens, as well as spicy fried chicken, sloppy Joe–style jackfruit, and laab-style Thai ground beef.

Find it at: Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

Melange Creperie

Technically a food stand rather than a truck, Sean Carroll’s now-legendary crêpe cart started as a one-man operation on a Montrose corner and has since become a mini-empire. You can visit the new storefront at 711 Heights Blvd., or get a crêpe al fresco from the market stand.

Find it at: City Hall Farmers Market

Ripe Cuisine

This truck scores points for its clever and tasty vegan burger as much as its brunch offerings, including Millennial favorite avocado toast, this one topped with sun-dried tomato pesto and red chili flakes.

Find it at: Rice University Farmers Market

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Image: Abby Ledoux

Handcrafted Goods

The East End Street Market on Navigation Boulevard offers plenty of delicious foodstuffs, but it’s also known for its handcrafted goods. Here are our five favorites from a recent Sunday visit.

Accessories by Olga Diaz

Featured on everything from jewelry to denim, this local artist’s hand-painted designs depict Frida Kahlo, sugar skulls, and, in at least one instance, Selena. Cocktail rings are miniature, wearable recreations of Kahlo’s “Diego y Yo” and “The Wounded Deer,” while beaded jewelry captures the vibrant iconography of Día de los Muertos.

Tees by Freckled Creations

Pearland-based Odet Galindo’s handcrafted shirts are for the chica who knows she slays: Her bestseller is a simple graphic tee screen-printed with chingona (loose translation, badass woman). For the self-aware guy, there are cabrón tees, while other designs rep Texas, Houston, and the East End. 

Ceramics by Vita Verde

Sheryl Stephenson and Elena Cusi-Wortham, both Houston artists, make low-fired, lovingly crafted, one-of-a-kind ceramics by pressing leaves from local plants like banana leaves and elephant ears into wet clay. 

Recycled Vases by Artesanía Jacxeny

Traditional Mexican imagery is also strong in these eco-friendly, hand-painted vases made from “upcycled” wine bottles, mason jars and soda glasses. A mother-daughter trio makes and sells the wares, whose designs vary by season.

Bath bombs by Lyons Luxuries

LUSH has nothing on this mother-daughter duo from Kingwood. The Lyons family makes quality small-batch bath products with assorted scents and oils, dried flowers, and that ever-elusive ingredient: Texas love.

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Image: Todd Spoth

Farmers Markets Directory

Bellville Farmers Market

Canino Produce Co.

Chimney Rock Market

City Hall Farmers Market

East End Farmers Market

Eleanora’s Market

The Farmers Market at Bridgeland

Farmers Market at Imperial Sugar Land

Heights Epicurean Farmers Market

Memorial Villages Farmers Market

Meyerland Farmers Market

Rice University Farmers Market

The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill

Tomball Farmers Market

Urban Harvest East Side Farmers Market

Westchase District Farmers Market

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Angela's Oven

$ Bakeries, Café 204 Aurora St.

This longtime farmers market staple has location hidden in a home on Aurora Street in the Heights. There are Angela and Jerry Shawn's diverse loaves and lami...