Sep 21, 2010Local produce shines in Texas
By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor
At the Pearl Farmers’ Market in San Antonio, Texas, shoppers can find locally grown vegetables, some fruits and meats, potted herbs, baked goods, cut flowers, honey, fresh cheese, camembert, free-range eggs, nuts, jams, salsa, seasoning spices, coffee and tea.
Locally grown is a key element to the success of the Pearl – a producers-only market. All produce and products must be grown or made by the vendors, all of whom must come from within a 150-mile radius of San Antonio.
Cora Lamar, the market’s president and a farmer, said the restrictions are important.
“Our growers don’t supplement their produce in any way,” she said. “It can be trying at times, especially now when there is a drought going on. No one has any tomatoes.”
According to market organizer Tatum Evans, that’s part of the allure.
“The seasonality of the produce starts a good dialogue between the farmers and the consumers,” she said. “People get to learn the seasons that the crops are actually grown as opposed to what may have been brought in to the supermarket. It also teaches them what the local growers are going through such as the current drought.”
The venue itself is also a draw. Located along the historic Riverwalk area of downtown San Antonio, thanks to a recent extension, the market draws customers from all over the area. It is also a short walk to famous museums and attractions.
The market started in May 2009 with a grand opening that drew more than 6,000 attendees. It is part of a larger complex that houses restaurants and a culinary institute. During seasonal peaks in the spring and fall, the market draws upwards of 3,500 people each Saturday during the hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Customers are also treated to cooking demonstrations.
“We run a cooking demonstration each Saturday with local chefs and students from the culinary institute,” Evans said. “People have been getting back to cooking for themselves and the local products and produce available is a great addition to that. We’ll set up 40 seats and each is always full, along with several folks standing.”
Lamar has been impressed with the farmers’ market so far.
“When I saw the initial plans three years ago, I wasn’t sure what to think,” she said. “It has done very well so far, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Some of the challenges growers in Texas face are the same for growers everywhere. Lamar said that while they are blessed with two distinct growing seasons, they also have to contend with some pretty harsh conditions at times. That and white flies, a major concern to growers in south Texas.
“You can spray and spray,” Lamar said. “You almost lose your religion fighting them.”
Lamar uses a mixture of soap and Karo syrup with water for the flies. It makes the flies stick to things before they can sting the plants and turn them black, she said.
Lamar grows field peas, peppers, eggplant, herbs, many varieties of tomatoes, artichoke, broccoli and lettuce, to name a few of her crops. She has her best months from spring up to June, and things slow down in July and August.
This is mirrored by attendance at the farmers’ market. But there are people who show up every Saturday regardless, Evans said.