Downtown farmers market a spring tradition

The strawberries are ripe for the picking in downtown Houston. Shoppers can pick them - and other local produce - from the vast selection now available at the City Hall Farmers Market.

The market, which launched its spring season Feb. 22, opens 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Wednesdays through June 27 outside of Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby.

The market carries products from more than 35 "micro businesses," with food ranging from coffee cakes by Gooey Butter Girls Cake Co. to Asian/fusion-inspired cuisine by Wicked Whisk.

Spring produce includes beets, turnips, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach and carrots.

Guests also can find cheese makers, bakers, olive-oil vendors, coffee roasters and baristas, all based within 180 miles of Houston.

The market has been offering fall and spring seasons since the city of Houston launched it in October 2010 in partnership with Urban Harvest, which operates a network of farmers markets in Houston and Sugar Land.

"We have such a variety of vendors at the City Hall Farmers Market," said Libby Kennedy, Urban Harvest's market manager for the downtown site.

"It's become a venue for interesting, inventive foods."

The market provides a venue for those getting started in the food vending business, she said.

A number have been able to use the market as a launching pad to other opportunities, including product placement at local grocery stores.

When most people envision a farmer's market, they imagine a shopping area where shoppers, farmers and vendors gather on Saturday mornings, Kennedy said.

"The Saturday model is 'take your time, shop around,' " she said. "The City Hall market is about 'get your lunch and get going.' It's more fast-paced."

Most market customers live or work downtown, but the market does attract people from a wider area during its special events.

This season, the market's events included Rodeo Day on March 14, in which visitors were able to see cowboy boots, baby goats and a chef demonstration.

The April 18 Earth Day celebration will highlight green initiatives around the city, and the May 23 Rally for the Arts will spotlight the downtown art and theater scene.

The market is a green initiatives itself, said Laura Spanjian, Mayor Annise Parker's director of sustainability.

Several months before the market got started, the city launched its first container garden at the Bob Lanier Public Works Building. Employees on each floor of the building handled the care of the 25 containers.

In September of that year, the city created a second 25-container garden - the City Hall Victory Garden at Tranquility Park.

Both gardens were intended to encourage people to eat nutritiously and to eat locally grown products.

It was a logical next step, Spanjian said, to create the downtown market that brought fresh produce to more Houstonians. Spanjian referred to the two gardens and the market as a "sustainability triangle."

"It shows you can grow delicious, healthy food anywhere, and you can eat local food," she said.

Buying from nearby food sources supports the local economy, protects the environment by reducing fuel consumption for transportation and plays a role in community building, Spanjian said.

The city and Urban Harvest broke ground on another garden project Feb. 29. This community garden is at the city of Houston's Permitting Center on Washington Avenue.

"The next phase will be to take these gardens out to the neighborhoods, particularly underserved neighborhoods," Spanjian said.

Flori Meeks is a freelance writer and can be reached at