As we start to consider not only how we live our lives but what we put into our bodies, it has become clear that some of the options sold in stores aren’t what we want to consume. Our preferred grocery store is HEB, which offers a lot of brands and varieties, but we never feel like the meat is the quality we want and we’ve been a little disappointed with the produce lately. That set us looking for alternatives. We have a Whole Foods in south Houston, but it’s almost an hour round trip with weekend traffic. Despite feeling like we have some of the best grocery options available, we felt like something was missing.
We live down the block from our communities’ farmers’ market, and we’ve lived here for almost a year but have never been. We always seem to forget about it or think about it after we’ve filled up our fridge at the grocery store. But this week we set our minds to check it out, scheduling it as part of today’s agenda, and we are so glad we did!
The market doesn’t look that big at first, but we are lucky enough to have around fifteen or twenty vendors that come every weekend. Everything from vegetables to tea leaves to ginger beer and homemade soaps were set out on tables and under tents with people bustling back and forth in the aisle and along the sidewalk. It was picturesque in every way with what we could tell were locals catching up with regular vendors and eco-conscious and zero wasters using their own cloth totes to cart off their purchases. Best of all was the demand that some of the booths had created. One vendor in particular that advertises primarily as a peach farm had tables full of vegetables–squash, cucumbers, jalapenos, okra, green beans, peaches, eggs–you name it, they seemed to have it (except onions). They are so well visited at the Saturday market that they had a section with a sign to pick up pre-orders with five or six massive coolers full of items shoppers had pre-ordered. And I could see the benefit. It was like what I picture European markets to be like with people shoulder to shoulder to make their orders and be the first to grab the best that a vendor has to offer. It was overwhelming to say the least, so we started at the other end and made our way back toward the crowd.
Our first purchase was unintended when we arrived, but we quickly saw the benefit. A local farm in Waller, Texas had an unbelievable selection of meats, nearly every livestock one can raise in the heat of southern Texas, with several cuts. Best of all, their livestock is grass-fed with no corn or substitutes and no antibiotics, which is difficult to find in the meat available in stores. Whole Foods has some options that are similar, and they also offer the free range (not caged) meat, like this vendor. The reason we went ahead with this purchase rather than buying it slightly cheaper at Whole Foods was that this farm was selling next door and we want to start supporting local producers rather than big stores when we can. Add to it a dozen eggs from grass-fed only, free range chickens, and we had made our first purchase.
Further down we passed the homemade soap booth, but we kept on walking thanks to my love of a natural soap we bought while in Juneau, Alaska this month (a review post is coming soon). But just around the corner we could hear live banjo music, ever so soft and rhythmic, where we discovered a young man playing as he sat back in his chair. A few corked bottles of ginger beer were in front of him along with small sample cups. We were about to pass it up when my partner recalled that one of her mom’s favorite drinks calls for ginger beer. We gave it a try and were surprised at how much we liked it despite not being big fans of ginger. It was sharp with a bit of a peppery bite at the end, and it was flavorful. For five dollars–two of which is a deposit on the glass bottle and is returned if you bring it back (love it!)–we bought her mom a bottle that may or may not still be around on her next trip home.
Next door was hibiscus tea in large coolers, and the booth was packed. People were bringing their own mason jars or purchasing them straight from him and filling them up to take some home for the week. We stopped at the tea leaf booth, hoping to find some white tea, which I struggle to find in loose leaf anywhere local, but to no avail. They had a nice selection of teas for when we run low on practically any of our others, but we moved on since we were in the market for white tea only. (See what I did there…)
We ended up back at the peach farm stand where the crowd was still shoulder to shoulder for their vegetables, eggs, and peaches. We’ve been incorporating green beans into our diet lately and struggle to keep them fresh from the store. So we bought a sizable bag of green beans for three dollars and a smaller bag of whole okra for two dollars. We’ve never fried okra ourselves, but I’m willing to give it a go because one thing I can never find in Houston is fresh fried okra!
When we left, we were so excited to see what all was available just down the street each week. With a pound of bison meat, a dozen fresh eggs, green beans, okra, and a bottle of ginger beer, we were content little shoppers as we toted our findings home in our cloth bag. It felt good to support local growers and to know that our food is likely less affected by additives, pesticides, or hormones. It’s a small step toward being in control of what we put in our bodies, but it was an important one. The farmers’ market might not be a weekly trip, but I wouldn’t mind it if it became one.
What is your favorite item to nab at the farmers’ market?