Garden View: McAllen farmers market offers variety of produce and goods

The Growing Growers Farmers Market, located in McAllen’s Firemen’s Park, is celebrating its 12th birthday today.

That may not seem very long ago, but I surely remember when we had no farmers markets in Hidalgo County.

After years of hearing the question “where are the farmers markets?” from Winter Texans, I finally found a way to build a community development project — with the help of co-workers and friends, teaching organic vegetable production, food safety, food preparation, and market and business plan development. We called the program Growing Growers. We also included small animal production classes, so that we could offer participants a variety of ways to produce and sell farm goods.

Within a couple of years, we needed a larger space than the park in San Juan where we started and moved to Firemen’s Park in McAllen. This move gave us room to include other farm/ ranch products beyond vegetables. Jams and jellies, grass-fed beef, Gulf caught shrimp, fryers and eggs, fresh and dried herbs, and local honey were added. We quickly found a customer need to include baked goods and products for those with special dietary needs, like gluten-free, vegan, and keto friendly. Goat’s milk soap and shampoo, along with natural skin care items were added, as well as artisan chocolate.

There are lots of good reasons communities across America, support and rally for farmers markets. Farmers markets promote healthy diets and, ultimately, attendees add more fruits and vegetables to their diet.

Farmers markets teach us what is in season and, by eating seasonally, we enjoy food at its best and anticipate what is to come in the next season.

Variety selection for in-season produce is often very broad, as growers try heirloom seeds and varieties not in commercial production.

This season, we have multi-colored carrots and cauliflower in shades of purple, gold and green, along with five varieties of kale.

For producers, the farmers market is a great way to test new varieties and products and get feed-back from customers, as well as other vendors.

Those with value-added products may take the opportunity to become commercial or take their business in a different direction, often influenced by consumer demand.

Several vendors from the Growing Growers Farmers Market have received grants from the McAllen Chamber of Commerce or H-E-B allowing them to further develop as entrepreneurs.

The farmers market is often the best place to learn about preparing vegetables, too. Growers are happy to share recipes and the Welcome Desk at the Growing Growers has inspiring recipes, along with information on upcoming farming and gardening workshops.

Today, Lamar Jones, creator of The Jank Gourmet BBQ Sauce and Spice Blend is introducing his diabetic-friendly barbeque sauce with a food demonstration.

And, a new vendor will introduce gourmet mushrooms at the market. Join the Growing Growers Farmers Market today from 9 a.m. to noon, in Firemen’s Park, corner of First Street and Business 83, for a wide variety of farm products and our birthday celebration.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist and garden writer. You can contact her at barbarastorz@hotmail.com.