With Houston’s temperate climate, we don’t experience spring the way others around the country do, where there’s excitement about the first crocuses pushing through the earth, and the robin’s song heralds the passing of winter’s cold. Here, our sunny days grow sunnier, and we find ourselves enjoying the outdoors before the sultry summer heat and humidity push us all indoors.
But even with Houston’s version of spring, we’re drawn to the season’s promise of new beginnings. All around downtown there are new places to shop and eat, new ways for us to look at how we connect to the environment, even new ideas on old themes. Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to be healthier this year. Maybe you want to explore how you can eat and shop locally, showing your support for Houston-based businesses. Maybe you decided that this was the year you’d do more in downtown.
No matter what your resolutions, though, downtown is alive with the fresh, newness of spring. Read on for ways to explore our incredible, ever-changing space.
A new approach to food
Houston foodies know that the flagship Georgia’s Market on I-10 is a mecca for healthy foods and nutritional needs. Now downtowners have a Georgia’s to call their own, with the opening of the market’s new spot at Main and Prairie. This is great news for downtown dwellers, workers and visitors alike.
“This is a perfect example of what the idea of farm to market really means,” says Jennifer Masters, spokeswoman for Georgia’s.
“The founders have always made a conscious effort to demonstrate how easy it is to offer quality foods in a sustainable manner.”
Rick and Georgia Bost met years ago as graduate students at Rice University. Georgia was studying biology, specifically looking at edible strains in hibiscus. Rick was an engineer. Together, they built a farm in Waller County and raised grass-fed beef that they sold to local restaurants. Three years ago, they got the opportunity to buy the store on the Katy Freeway and they took it, seeing an opportunity to further showcase their commitment to local food and healthy living.
“In opening Georgia’s Market it was our goal to realize Georgia’s vision to demonstrate a fully integrated, local, sustainable agri-whole food business that sourced from our own operations and supported other local farmers and ranchers and provided local healthy food,” says Georgia’s owner Richard Bost.
“Georgia’s mission and vision in starting her business 25 years ago was to ‘Harvest Health and Wellness Sustainably.’ We started with a small gardening, retail and education operation in Spring Branch, expanded to a larger demonstration organic farm and ranch west of Houston, supported the operations of a unique pastured animal meat processing facility near Bellville (the only one in the South without a detection of persistent e-coli), support and assistance to local farmers markets, and now a much larger retail business.”
In addition to offering natural, organic and healthy products of every stripe, Georgia’s is known for its buffet, featuring fresh hot and cold items.
That buffet is coming downtown, where you’ll find grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs and a variety of local produce. Best of all, if you love something on the buffet, you’ll be able to buy it in the store.
“And we’ll be offering a separate, bistro-style menu at Georgia’s Downtown,” says Masters. “We want this to be a place where people can not only bring home fresh items, but can stop in for breakfast, lunch and dinner and see how wonderful local fare really is.”
Georgia’s will be sourcing as much as possible from Houston-area farmers, largely within a 250-mile radius of the city. Masters says you’ll find olive oil from Hill Country producers, live culture tea from Kichin Kambucha, and cow cheeses from Pola Cheese, the only local cheese maker working with cow’s milk. In addition, you’ll find seasonal produce from Cat Springs’ Animal Farm, a favorite at local farmers markets, and items from Country Boys Treasures, a Sugar Land producer that grows a killer squash.
“All of our meats are nitrate-, hormone- and steroid-free,” says Masters. “And everything in the market will be local and organic.”
Even though the idea of choosing more organic produce and working toward more sustainable food sources has become more popular lately, Bost says these were always paramount for him and his wife.
“As naturalists and environmental consultants who grew up in the 1960s, participated in the first Earth Day, and began our careers in the 1970s, we observed the effects of urbanization on the prime farmland around Houston, experienced the first energy crisis in the U.S, and realized the importance of integrating sustainable agricultural operations into the future of the area for it to be sustainable,” he says. “By supporting local business development, becoming more self-sufficient, we could preserve the wonders and beauty of our local natural setting for future generations.”
If you’ve been thinking about what it means to embrace sustainability, Georgia’s is your one-stop shop. When you walk in, you’ll be in the café, where the menu will change depending on the season and what’s available. As a rule, though, you’ll have choices of fresh-squeezed, house-made juices; locally produced meats and breads; and the freshest produce of the season. You can hang out in the café’s mezzanine seating, where you’ll find an array of books by Houston-area authors.
“This is really the spot in the market where you can kick back and chill out with a cup of coffee or something to eat,” explains Masters.
Georgia’s Downtown market section shelves overflow with edibles of all kinds: bins of grains and nuts, dairy options, meats and cheeses. Downstairs, enter The Cellar, where the wine and beer bar features not only your favorites, but exceptional Texas wines, as well wines from around the world that are organic, biodynamic and vegan. Look for Southern Star Brewing Company beers and other Texas brews.
“Georgia’s has always been about making a strong commitment to showing how to live and work in a sustainable manner,” says Masters. “And the downtown spot is a place where people can discover how wonderful local food can be.”
It’s also a place that will take some of the mystery out of the idea of going local. You’ve heard the term locavore before, applied to someone who sources as much as he or she can from local farmers, growers and producers.
At Georgia’s you can sample Houston-grown and bred items, and not only see the quality in those pieces, but also be satisfied knowing that you’re supporting Houston-area businesses.
“Here, you have the opportunity to know exactly where your food is coming from,” says Masters. “And you’ll see how different beef that’s grass-fed can taste, compared to the beef you might buy at a regular super market. More than that, though, there are no secrets about how the food here is raised or grown. It’s all organic, and it’s all local.”
That idea of community in food has always been a key factor in Georgia’s Market. And having a gathering space where people can connect over food is exciting to Georgia’s. Honing in on that idea, the downtown spot also will feature live bands offering the best in local performances. Downtowners no doubt will feel this is something that makes Georgia’s much more than a place to purchase food.
And by combining the market with an eat-in café, where the chef and his team not only are creating an of-the-moment seasonal menu, but also take the time to explain to you what items are in a dish, it becomes easy to re-create recipes at home – buying everything you need at Georgia’s.
“If the focus on our I-10 location is about education and nutrition,” says Masters, “Downtown, we’re really all about the hyper-local experience and showing you how you can feel you’re really part of a food community.”
And that’s really what makes Georgia’s such a different experience from other food spots. This is a place where you get fresh food that tastes great, and you’re able to see that it comes from nearby, giving you an entirely different perspective on what you’re eating and how it made its way to you.
“Count on this being a different experience every time you come in,” says Masters.
She says not to worry, though, if you discover a favorite.
“Your grass-fed burger will always be available.”
Fresh from the farm
If Georgia’s offers you a way to see how your food is grown and delivered, the Urban Harvest City Hall Farmers Market takes that idea to new extremes. Every Wednesday, Hermann Square fills with tents and tables, each one offering something different: hand-made soaps and breads, produce picked from the ground that morning, free-range chickens, farm-raised eggs. Here, you can talk to the people who grew these items and find out what that funny-looking vegetable is and what to do with it.
“Our market shows the importance of voting with your purse,” says Libby Kennedy, Urban Harvest’s manager for the City Hall market. “Buying here helps you support Houston-based businesses, and it’s also a way to demonstrate your own commitment to the environment.”
Kennedy says one of the biggest reasons to shop at farmers markets is to be able to experience produce at the height of its freshness, to experience the difference in taste between a tomato that was plucked off the vine at its peak versus one that was picked green, packed in a truck and hauled into the grocery story from California, ripening along the way.
At the City Hall market, 30-35 vendors come weekly with their wares.
The spring season for the market runs through June 27, Wednesdays from 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., and Kennedy says that shoppers here can experience a vibe that’s custom-tailored to downtown’s needs.
“Most shoppers are here on their lunch break, so they go in, shop the market and get out all within an hour,” she says. “But you still have the uniqueness of being able to talk to a particular vendor about his or her products, learning what it is and how you can cook it.”
Kennedy says her own experience with that helped her become a fan of kohlrabi, a cabbage-family plant also known as the German turnip. She says it cooks up slightly crispy and has a little bit of a sweet edge to it, and it’s easily become one of her go-to greens.
When it comes to shopping farmers markets, there are a few helpful hints:
Kennedy recommends keeping an eye out for greens, especially at the start of the market season. Many vendors will have spinach and lettuce varieties on sale. Salad greens will show strongest throughout the spring. Beginning in late February, farmers should have strawberries available, and around the end of March or the beginning of April, you should be able to purchase fresh onions. In late spring, squash and zucchini will make an appearance. Dill and fennel should arrive in April, and toward the end of the spring season, the first peaches should be in.
“Many of our vendors are family farms,” Kennedy explains. “And this is an opportunity for shoppers to explore what seasonality means and have the growers talk about why this item is only available at this particular time in our region. It really helps you get rooted into the idea of local, fresh food.”
Embracing Mother Earth
You’ll want to mark your calendars for April 7, for the Waste Management Earth Day Festival presented by Air Alliance Houston in Discovery Green Park. The city’s biggest green festival, Earth Day will feature individual “zones” dedicated to air, water, sustainability, healthy living and wildlife/habitats.
“More than 30 ‘green’ nonprofits are taking part in the event,” says Robin Cavanaugh, the event’s spokesperson. “And we’re excited to offer this all-day event, where people can learn about reducing waste and reusing items to promote a green lifestyle.”
Look for arts and crafts activities, where kids can create masterpieces from found objects, a farmers market offering the freshest fruits and vegetables of the season, even the opportunity to test-drive eco-friendly cars. Last year, nearly 13,500 people attended the event, and Cavanaugh says this year offers great opportunities to learn more about the environment and the affects we humans have on it, as well as a fantastic entertainment line-up. At press time, the day’s full itinerary was still being ironed out, but details will be available at earthdayhouston.org.
“It’s the perfect blend of information and entertainment,” says Cavanaugh. “And people can see how they can make very small changes to go green, changes that can have such a huge impact on the world around us.”
Everything old made new again
One piece of living a sustainable lifestyle includes reusing and recycling items. To see that taken to its artistic extreme, head to Discovery Green on the third Saturday of every month for DG Flea, a funky flea market that focuses on found items presented with new flair.
“A huge part of our mission is our commitment to sustainability and sustainability issues,” says Susanne Theis, program director at the park.
“Reusing, reclaiming, recycling is all a part of that and the artists and vendors at our flea market embrace that completely.”
An ever-changing market, shoppers at DG Flea can find vintage items, as well as old items turned into new things. You might find antique glass pedestal cake dishes, artworks crafted from found objects, vintage clothing, and books and records. Held on the park’s Great Lawn, Theis says DG Flea is a family event. Kids have their own space where they can make things from recycled objects, and Theis says every flea market also features a scavenger hunt. Treasure hunters can check out Discovery Green’s website to see what the month’s featured scavenger hunt item is, and Theis says whoever finds it, gets to keep it.
“It’s been such fun and such a success,” Theis says of the market. “And the vibe of it just feels exactly right for our space.”
For upcoming DG Flea dates, scavenger hunt items and lists of vendors, visit the events listing at discoverygreen.com.