In our changing local food economy, it’s important to stay on the cutting edge especially if you are a small family farmer dependent upon reaching your customers directly in the marketplace.
The Local Food scene has grown abundantly over the last ten years in Houston, but let’s face it, the market has become saturated with Farmers Markets, out of town distributors and an apparent increase of local food accessibility in grocery stores. This leaves local farmers with a need to explore new options.
Small farmers need to move toward a more creative approach, offering unique items that you do not find as easily available such as microgreens, ginger, turmeric and mushrooms. Of course, these too will become more popular with local growers as the market is discovered, but for now, they are an opportunity to grow.
Microgreens are tiny edible plants that are larger than sprouts but smaller than baby vegetables and are harvested as the first true leaves are germinated. They pack a big punch when it comes to flavor and nutrition. Sprouts are generally grown in water, but microgreens are grown in soil and then cut by hand without the roots attached. Most any variety of vegetable can be grown, but successful mixes focus on color and sometimes spicy flavors to garnish salads and plates, and the chefs love them.
Our extended growing season in the South gives growers an opportunity for more tropical offerings like ginger and turmeric. Both are valued for their culinary and medicinal qualities, but once you have experienced fresh baby ginger or turmeric, there is no going back. Planted in mid spring when the temperatures warm up, these crops take up to nine months to harvest and are big feeders requiring regular organic inputs, but the crop is worth it. Both chefs and Market shoppers buy up the fresh crop quickly in early winter as the demand far exceeds the supply, giving farmers a premium price.
Mushrooms are also a niche market for farmers to develop. With the right environment, mushrooms can be easily grown on sawdust, wood chips, straw or fresh logs. With our native trees in the area, oyster varieties and shitakes are ideal. These can be offered fresh or dried to extend the market, giving farmers a unique offering that are quickly sought after at Markets and among chefs.
These and other unique culinary crops will make local farmers a success in the ever changing market place and will also add much needed variety to the local food scene.