Every year East Texans look forward to the first taste of a Jacksonville tomato, Noonday onion, Pittsburg peach or other fruits and vegetables grown in the area. However, sourcing all of these commodities could mean a lot of time and mileage to find the freshest offering.
Carmen Sosa, organizer of the East Texas Community Food Coalition, has spent months bringing farmers, vendors, city officials and other food enthusiasts to the table to brainstorm ways to create sustainable local economies that make natural food sources more widely available to the public.
"We want people to think more intentionally about their food choices," Ms. Sosa said. "Consider the where, what and how of the food you are consuming."
Ms. Sosa's efforts, along with a large network of volunteers, have resulted in a more organized approach to some of this year's area farmers markets.
The Fair Market at the East Texas Fairgrounds, The Library Market at the Tyler Public Library, The Jacksonville Market at Sadler's Kitchen and the Rusk Farmers Market located at Barb's Too Restaurant are being organized by the East Texas Community Food Coalition and will be offering fruits and vegetables that have been grown within a 75 mile radius of the market.
"Our farmers market lineup includes produce grown using organic and sustainable practices as well as conventionally grown produce, pastured eggs, grass-fed beef and pastured pork and chicken," Ms. Sosa said. We'll also offer fresh baked fair trade scones and muffins, locally roasted and freshly brewed direct and fair-trade coffee, handmade works from local artists, and live music from some of East Texas' best artists."
"Our markets are producers-only, which means there's no re-selling allowed at the markets," Ms. Sosa said. "Customers want to know who is growing their food and by having a producers-only market they can rest assured that the farmer selling them the peaches or greens is the farmer that helped grow them."
A new addition to the farmers market lineup is the market that will be held every Thursday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tyler Public Library. The City of Tyler is the season sponsor for this market.
Another initiative Ms. Sosa is proud to offer is the acceptance of WIC vouchers at the farmers market.
"Farmers Market Nutrition Program/WIC vouchers will be distributed to participants at The Fair Market and Jacksonville Farmers Market," Ms. Sosa said. "The vouchers may be redeemed at either of those markets or at the Library Market or Rusk Farmers Market. This is a tremendous opportunity for our WIC customers to receive an additional $20 in fresh produce this season. We are proud to be partnering with NetHealth and the Texas Department of Agriculture to bring this program to Tyler."
Meetings with Brenda Elrod, NetHealth Environmental Health Director were an important step to bringing Ms. Sosa's vision for the markets to life.
"Brenda supported our vision and worked tirelessly with us to create new rules and regulations for farmers markets in Tyler. Her dedication to the safety of our community and forward-thinking spirit has been instrumental in allowing us to bring two vibrant, community-driven farmers markets to our neighborhoods," Ms. Sosa said.
In addition to the farmers markets, community gardens are another part of the equation the coalition is getting underway.
"We have been working with landowners, both private and public, to transform unused spaces into productive community gardens. Our most recent partnership with the McClendon House on Houston Street involves adopting several of their community garden plots, cleaning them up, and offering them to members of the neighborhood," Ms. Sosa said. "Sankofa-African Heritage Health will be planting a culinary garden, and a wildflower cutting garden will be grown for Refuge of Light."
"Growing food for yourself and your family is very empowering and rewarding. Members of the food coalition are also active in the growth and revitalization of the St. Paul's Garden and Butler College Community Garden," Ms. Sosa said.
The feeling of community and getting to know your neighbors through sustainable economies is as important to the coalition as the fresh, local produce.
"The Food Coalition is a 100 percent volunteer supported organization," Ms. Sosa said. "We encourage building relationships and collaboration. Setting aside common barriers and competitiveness and working together have a much greater impact and sustainable effect."
One factor Ms. Sosa, the farmers and the coalition volunteers did not anticipate was the cold spring and late frost East Texas has experienced.
"Our crops in East Texas are a full month behind schedule thanks to the longer than normal cooler weather," Ms. Sosa.
There are also concerns with peach, blueberry and tomato farmers regarding the number of blooms that were lost due to extremely cold overnight temperatures.
The Fair Market starts Saturday, The Jacksonville and Rusk Market on Tuesday evening and The Library Market on Thursday, May 9. There will be some fruits and vegetables available, but not as much as would typically be anticipated for this time of year. People are still encouraged to come out to the meet the vendors, visit some of the other booths and enjoy the live music and artisan products that are being offered.
Each market is looking for additional vendors and volunteers.
"We still have room at each of our markets for a few more quality vendors. Interested artists, growers, and artisans can email email@example.com or call 214-649-2688," Ms. Sosa said.
There is also a Facebook group called Fresh.Local.Tasty that people can join for updates on East Texas Community Food Coalition activities or visit foodcoalition.org. Facebook pages have also been created for The Fair Market, Farmers Market at The Library, Jacksonville Farmers Market and the Rusk Farmers Market.
The Fair Market at East Texas Fairgrounds
212 W. Front Street
Opens Saturday, May 4
Hours: Saturday and Tuesday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Farmers Market at The Tyler Public Library
201 S. College Avenue
Opens Thursday, May 9
Hours: Thursday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Jacksonville Farmers Market at Sadler's Kitchen
100 South Bonner, Jacksonville
Opens Tuesday, May 7
Hours: Tuesday, 5 p.m. to sellout
Rusk Farmers Market at Barb's Too Restaurant
1007 S. Dickinson Drive, Rusk
Opens Tuesday, May 7
Hours: Tuesday, 5 p.m. to sellout
Market Day Pie
1 tablespoon butter
About 5 large kale or chard leaves, thinly sliced, ribs removed
1/2 medium onion, roughly diced
1/2 cup chopped broccoli, cauliflower or mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs, such as parsley, thyme, oregano and chives
2 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
2 uncooked eggs, whisked
1/4 cup crumbled feta or cheese
2/3 cup whole-milk yogurt or sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flour
1-2 tbsp. milk, as needed
Preheat the oven to 375F. Put the butter in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. A minute later, add the kale, onion, and broccoli. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are tender, about 10 minutes, do not brown. Remove from the heat, add the herbs, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs to the cooked kale mixture and let cool while you make the batter. Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, and remaining eggs. Add the baking powder and flour and mix until smooth. If needed, add 1-2 tablespoons milk to thin, so that mixture can be spread thinly. Lightly butter a 9" pie plate or 8"x8" glass baking dish. Spread half the batter over the bottom, then top with the kale filling. Sprinkle with cheese. Dollop the remaining batter over the kale, then spread using your fingers or a rubber spatula to make sure there are no gaps in what will form the pie's top crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes. The crust should be golden brown. Let the pie cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. Eat warm or at room temperature. Note: Used locally grown kale/greens, herbs, broccoli, local eggs, and cheese. There are endless possibilities for ingredients. For example, substitute collards, cabbage, or spinach chopped if for the kale, add sliced mushrooms, crumbled bacon, and diced ham.
Recipe by Diane Littlejohn, East Texas Community Coalition Member