A Day at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market

This piece was originally published in the October 2, 2018 issue of the Review. 

In the ten years Tyler Horne has been running the Urban Harvest Farmers Market, it has only closed three times: once for Hurricane Ike, once when Christmas fell on a Saturday and once for Hurricane Harvey. Not even the torrential downpour of the market’s opening day qualified as reason to close.

And so, on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 in the morning, 58 local farmers and vendors set up camp in Taub Lot.

In spite of strong winds and rain from an early morning storm, vendors remained positive that the inclement weather would pass. Two hours later, the sun — and loyal customers — came out.  

Shoppers emerged from the market sopping wet with bags full of delicious, locally sourced products, including coffee, cheese, meat, fruits, vegetables and salsa.

The Urban Harvest Farmers Market moved to its new location in Taub Lot from the corner of Eastside and Richmond, which had become too small to accommodate the vendors and customers. Urban Harvest had requested to use Taub Lot for its weekly Saturday markets nearly a year ago, but negotiations over the terms of the temporary lease had originally caused the deal to fall through.

Mandy Trichell, who sells Cultured Heat Hot Sauce, said she was excited about the move because Taub Lot provided more space for vendors to set up and park.

Due to its new location, Saturday’s vendors worried that customers might not be able to find the market, but a vendor at Eat My Pralines said that her regular customers made it despite the rain.

Although he was completely soaked, Horne, the Director of Farmers Markets at Urban Harvest, was not worried about the weather.

“We just wait out the storm,” he said. “One of the things that’s cool about our business is that unless there’s a major safety concern, we operate business as usual.”

Horne, who began volunteering with Urban Harvest in 2008, expressed excitement about the move to St. John’s.

 “It’s awesome, honestly, and it’s a bonus to have [Lamar Tower] nearby and to be more in a neighborhood,” he said.

Urban Harvest Executive Director Janna Roberson said that the move to Taub Lot was beneficial because many SJS alumni serve on Urban Harvest’s board.

Tracy Vaught (’73) and her husband, renowned chef Hugo Ortega, are prominent customers at the farmers market and look forward to the opportunities that the new location will provide.

“I’m so happy that St. John’s made that possible,” Vaught said. “It’s a much better location in that it’s visible, so I think they’re probably going to get many more visitors to the market than they ever have before, including the St. John’s families. I think it’s a win for everybody.”

Horne also said that Urban Harvest has several connections to St. John’s.

“Tons of people just live in the neighborhood, and regulars have kids who went to school here,” he said.

Negotiations recommenced six weeks ago following a yearlong break. Chief Financial Officer Greg Swan said that St. John’s was willing to host Urban Harvest on campus as long as the School would be able to cancel the lease in the event of construction.

“If there’s any reason it’s a problem for our community, or if there’s some need that we have for this two-acre lot, we need to be able to do that,” Swan said. “If we ever need this piece of property for something quickly, we don’t need to wait for a five year lease to expire.”

The contract states that the School must give Urban Harvest 90 days advance notice if the market needs to vacate the space for any reason. Currently, the long-term plan for Taub Lot is to transform it and surrounding acreage into an athletics facility, but there are no immediate plans to begin construction.

“In [the St. John’s] community, somebody could come to us and say, ‘I really think this is the number one priority, and I’m willing to provide funding to get this done [as long as] it gets done now,’” Swan said. “We just want to have all the options available for our land and not tie it up in anything.”

While the future of Taub Lot is uncertain, Swan welcomes the market as an opportunity to establish bonds within the Houston community.

“We aren’t doing this because we want the revenue — we’re just trying to be a good neighbor to these folks,” Swan said. “We think [the market is] a neat thing.”