Although the Rio Grande Valley is one of the state and country’s best fertile regions to grow fruits, vegetables and livestock, consumers have not had the opportunity to get the best the land produces unless they go to a grocery store or to a fruit stand.
Winter vegetables, for example, usually ship to many places in the United States. Goat cheese isn’t a supermarket staple in this part of the county. Organically grown fruit and vegetables have not been products people have been accustomed to buying. But changes in eating habits, being fit and healthier, and socialization to an extent are adding a new perspective to the way people behave today.
And the farmers market is contributing to that.
The makeshift markets began as an alternative for farmers and ranchers to make extra income by selling what they do best – growing fruits and vegetables and raising livestock. For one reason or another, Saturday has been the day set aside for a farmers market. It’s something now in close to 9,000 cities all over the country.
Here in Valley, more than half a dozen cities host their markets albeit in different day of the week. In Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen, it’s on Saturday. On South Padre Island, it’s every Sunday. Raymondville has theirs on certain Wednesdays. But in the town of Rancho Viejo, about halfway between Brownsville and Harlingen, the outdoors market is held from 4-8 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.
The fresh taste of success in Rancho Viejo
Bonnie Emerson, the Rancho Viejo market founder, says theirs is one of the fastest growing farmers markets in the Valley. Indeed.
On a Thursday in July, hundreds of people wandered around the market on Carmen Avenue. They shop, browse and consume among the dozens of vendors selling a variety of unique products. Fruits, vegetables, plants and farm raised eggs – the usual products available at a farmers market – were plentiful. Other items included goat cheese, sauces, jellies and dips made with a variety of things like sesame seeds and nuts.
PW Farms of San Benito has been selling black garlic for a number of uses such as in a hummus dip. There was also wild-caught smoked salmon from Alaska, grapefruit and cheese cake pie, yeast rolls, hummus with cilantro, nonalcoholic pina coladas, different types of pizzas, roasted corn in the cup, nuts from North Dakota and cooking made with exotic products.
Emerson said the mission of their market is to support, promote and expand local organic agriculture and small business. It also looks to strengthen the relationship between local food producers and the consumers.
The market, which also includes children activities, has been so successful that several vendors have been picked up by a major grocery store with a chance to sell their products. Several consumers at the Thursday farmers market said they love the atmosphere.
“I am here whenever I can,” said Norma Wagner of Harlingen as she was buying sauces. “I love it.”
Rancho Viejo resident Bitty Truan said she goes to the market regularly and likes to bring friends and visitors whenever she can.
“It is also suppertime for me here,“ she said. “You can get pizzas, corn on the cob, pineapple ninjas and barbecue.”
It was the first time at the market for Victoria Gomez of Monterrey, Mexico, and Kasie Gonzalez and her brother Raul. They were enjoying the evening going from booth to booth, buying something here and there.
Variety in Brownsville
In Brownsville, the Brownsville Wellness Coalition runs such a market. It takes place from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday all year round at the city’s Linear Park on East Sixth Street. Dozens of vendors set under canopies to sell a variety of merchandise such as baked goods. Among them are Franny’s Garden and Thompson Dairy Farms of Bayview. Franny has the most extensive variety of baked goods made with organic products. Thompson’s main food item is goats milk cheese. Other people sell cannabis oils, natural skin products, bird houses, plants and jewelry.
Dr. Ford Lockett and wife Jackie said they enjoy stopping by the market whenever they can. John Williamson, a market regular customer, said he feels like a sort of pusher because he buys some products and lets people get a taste just like street drugs sellers do. For some people, such as Raymondville residents Sue Hoot and her son Brody, the farmers market is a necessity.
“We are both diabetics,” she said. “We come here to buy things that we can’t find back home.”
A healthier alternative
In McAllen, the Growing Growers Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday. Its founder, Barbara Storz, said it got started in 2008 as an educational program to teach families to grow vegetables as a healthier alternative. As a horticulturist with Texas A&M University, she said the market has grown over the years. It’s now also selling grass-fed beef and lamb, among many other products.