Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Downtown Farmers' Market and Acorn Squash

     Every Saturday morning, the Sustainable Food Center hosts three farmers' markets, one of which is held Downtown at 4th and Guadalupe. This market may be a little easier to get to for people who live in Central Austin. It is held in Republic Square Garden, which has some nice shaded seating areas where you can enjoy the prepared foods you can buy at the market. Although parking is often a problem downtown, there is a free parking lot adjacent to the market so you shouldn't have a problem finding a space. 

     Vendors here sell everything from apples and cucumbers to kombucha and specialty chocolates. The market feels much bigger than the one at Sunset Valley and is well-suited to leisurely browsing and savoring a seasonal scone with a cup of fair-trade, organic coffee. 

Texas Coffee Traders sells organic, fair-trade coffee at the Downtown market.

      Now, fall produce! I am particularly excited about acorn squash right now. It's an excellent source of fiber and vitamins and all that good stuff, and it's also really yummy! Acorn squash is typically dark green and, surprisingly enough, it is shaped like an acorn. It is similar to a small pumpkin and is often used in soups because it creates a creamy texture when cooked and pureed.

       My family has fallen in love with this delicious recipe from Real Simple. The dish is gorgeous and it makes our house smell wonderful every time we make it. 

       Now go acorn squash from some friendly farmers at the market and make something delicious with it!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sunset Valley Farmers' Market

Austinites are lucky bunch. In this vibrant and exciting city, we have access to multiple farmers’ markets each week spread out all over town. I know of at least five markets in the city limits and I am sure there are more that I haven’t been to. For the next few posts, I’ll be introducing various Austin farmers’ markets and featuring a few farmers. 

The Sustainable Food Center has an enormous presence in the Austin food scene with its three Austin farmers’ markets at Sunset Valley, Downtown, and the Triangle. Each Saturday morning, I go to the Sunset Valley market held next to the Burger Center parking lot from 9 am to 1 pm. There used to be a larger market there but, a few years ago, the market’s organizers decided to move to the Barton Creek Mall parking lot instead. At that point, SFC formed a market to replace the relocated one and the two markets now coexist quite well. It is a quaint grouping of vendors, with a nice mix of produce vendors with fresh fruits and vegetables, and product vendors selling everything from coffee to chicken. All the produce vendors sell similar fruits and vegetables based on what is in season and whatever you buy will most likely be good.

Even though most farmers sell similar products, I have my favorites. I mentioned Finca Pura Vida in my last post as a great place to buy okra and I’ll extend that claim to just about anything they sell. I have bought most of the produce that they sell at one point or another and I have never had a bad experience. Edgar, the Hispanic man you may see working the booth, is friendly and outgoing, greeting people as they come to the booth and restocking constantly with fresh, beautiful produce. The farm’s phrase is “Beyond Organic,” referring to their commitment to growing heirloom varieties using methods that restore, rather than harm, the land. This means that they sell unique varieties of produce that you cannot get at the grocery store or even at the other farmers’ market booths. In short, I love this place. 

The other farms that I love at Sunset Valley include Hairston Creek Farm, Flintrock Hill Farm, and Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Flintrock is especially known for their hydroponic gardens, allowing them to produce delicious cucumbers and tomatoes year-round. Johnson’s has a definite presence at all the Austin farmers’ markets and Sunset Valley is no exception. They always have a line of eager customers waiting with wide varieties of produce in their hands, ranging from tomatoes to sweet potatoes to rainbow chard. 

Rainbow Chard 

In addition to produce, my family buys meat at the farmers’ market almost every week. I’ve never had bad meat from any farmers’ market vendor so I would buy from any vendor who has the cut of meat you want. However, our personal favorite is Richardson Farms. They have booths at both the Sunset Valley and the Barton Creek markets and they sell a variety of high-quality meats, including pork, beef, and chicken. Their popcorn is also amazing. When my family bought our first bag from them, we had a small container of store-bought popcorn sitting in our pantry. Now, whenever we want popcorn, we all reach for the bag from Richardson and the container from the store still sits full on the shelf. 

SFC has a unique program in which customers can buy tokens that are worth money at the market. This allows you to use your credit card to buy market produce so you don't have to remember to bring a big wad of cash with you.  For a $2 service charge, you can get as many $1 or $5 tokens as you want and use them at any SFC market. The tokens look like this:

Here is the website for all Sustainable Food Center Farmers’ Markets:      
And here is a map showing where the Sunset Valley market is located:


I hope you can make it out to the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market!


Monday, September 19, 2011


         If you shop only at Wal-Mart or other large grocery stores, you might not even know that okra exists and you would be missing out. It's a wonderful vegetable and is edible steamed, fried, raw, and grilled. It's most often seen in Southern cuisine, especially in dishes like gumbo. Most people who have eaten and liked okra have eaten it fried. Don't get me wrong, fried okra is delicious but there are other (and healthier) way to enjoy this versatile veggie.
         Okra is most nutritious when eaten raw, like most other fruits and vegetables, because the cooking process leaches out some of the vitamins and minerals. The difference is fairly minuscule, though, and shouldn't discourage anyone from cooking their veggies. No matter how you eat it, okra is low in calories (31 per cup) and high in fiber (3.2 g/cup). It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, including 8% of your recommended calcium intake.

        There are a few different varieties of okra sold at the Austin farmers' markets. The most common variety is green, skinny, and about 3" to 6" long. The types I usually buy are from Hairston Creek Farm and Finca Pura Vida Farm, both at the Sunset Valley Famers' Market at Burger Center. Hairston sells organic okra that is especially small and delicious. Many vendors sell equally yummy okra, but my family has found Hairson's is some of the best for snacking and steaming. Finca Pura Vida sells a mix of burgundy and green okra, as well as a unique heirloom variety called Star of David. The burgundy and green varieties taste very similar to each other, although the burgundy is slightly less seedy and slimy, especially when raw. Once they are cooked, it is difficult to tell them apart because the burgundy turns green. I have never seen the Star of David variety sold anywhere but Finca Pura Vida and it has very distinct features from other types of okra. It is fatter, has bigger seeds, and, to me, it tastes slightly sweeter. It is especially good grilled, seasoned with olive oil, seasoning salt, and pepper.
Burgundy Okra!
Star of David Okra!
        I'll admit I'm kind of an okra addict and, as such, I get a little worried around this time of year because the end of okra season is nearing. We only have a few more weeks so get out to your closest farmers' market and get yourself some okra!

If you want to read more about Finca Pura Vida Farm or okra in general, here are the sources I referenced:

Hello Everybody!

        My name is Katie and I'll be posting about twice a month about seasonal produce and what to do with it. Everybody know how difficult it can be to work enough fruits and veggies into our diets, especially as incredibly busy students, but I'll be writing about how to make it fun. Eating healthy is one of the best things we can do for the environment and I'm excited about encouraging people to do so.
      Feel free to leave topics you'd like to read about in the comments section!
Until next time,

Friday, May 27, 2011

End of the Year Harvest!

Hi again!  On Tuesday we had our last big harvesting event.  We got a huge crop out of the first garden, but left the second one alone for now because there really isn't anything big enough to harvest.  Although we won't be maintaining the gardens as intensely over the summer as we are at the moment, we have decided (based on advice from Dick Pierce from the Sustainable Food Center) to leave some of our plants in the garden and cover the beds with compost and straw to replenish the soil and retain some water in it.  Here are some pictures of the harvest -- Enjoy!

One of our two super hardy sage plants.

Kale is another of our most robust crops.

Carrots!  These guys have exploded in the past three weeks.

Nathan holding a snap pea.

Parsley, which has grown like a weed -- but a very tasty and attractive one.

Potato plant.

Jaron with kale.

Wallis with a carrot.

Jaron and Katherine harvesting veggies.


Katherine with beet.

Wallis and Nathan harvesting veggies. 

Two of our carrots grew unusually close to each other!
Jaron with an onion.

Sanam digging up the infinite potato root.

Dick picking some kale.

Katherine and Sanam picking veggies.

Our beautiful carrot and kale crop.

Jaron trying a carrot.

Sanam with a carrot.

Wallis, Katherine, Nathan, Jaron, and Dick around the garden.

Traneecia trying a carrot.

Nathan picking lettuce.

Wallis and Traneecia with carrots.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hey folks, I just wanted to take a minute to catch everyone up on the current status of the Purple Carrot Project. If you saw our last post, you already know that we now have two gardens on campus, one of which is doing very well for itself. The second garden however seems to be struggling quite a bit. We're not totally sure if it is a soil quality or a water issue or something else, but we are working to do what we can to address the issue.

Now, you may be thinking, "well that's all fine and dandy, but isn't this supposed to be a community garden?" YES! Unfortunately we're having a little trouble working out legal issues with AISD, but we will get it all figured out eventually. We will also be applying for a grant from the Home Depot, which we hope will be able to cover the costs of a few more garden boxes for next year.

We also have a few side projects we are working on including a hydroponic garden, a data collection system for our garden and a water collections system for our school building.

So, we'll keep you all up to date with our progress on the Purple Carrot Project and our other projects as we move along.


If you have a garden inspired by the Purple Carrot Project we'd love to hear from you and maybe even feature your garden on this blog. Send your story and pictures to the club at