Local Food Movement Gaining Momentum in Houston

Houston may not be on the list when people talk about cities with a sustainable food culture, but that doesn’t mean it’s not trying. Houstonians are growing local, buying local, and selling local on a much larger scale, thanks to paradigm-shifters like the recession and even Hurricane Ike. From the KUHF Newslab, Wendy Siegle reports on Houston’s rapidly progressing local food movement.


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“Buy Local.” “Locavore.” “Slow Food.” “Farm to Table.”

As the local food movement gains in popularity across the globe, so too have these buzzwords. But it’s not just the tree-huggers that are pushing the local-friendly grocery cart along in Houston anymore. People of all stripes are taking notice. Even City Hall is boasting a vegetable garden now. Jay Crossley is from Houston Tomorrow and co-chairs the Houston Food Policy Workgroup.

“Now we’ve moved from these activists to everybody understanding these issues now. Everybody wants a garden; everybody wants to get in touch with the earth and with their own food.”

This community garden along Alabama grows organic produce year-round
This community garden along Alabama grows organic produce year-round

Mark Bowen is the executive director of Urban Harvest, a non-profit organization that holds farmers’ markets, develops community gardens, and educates people on how to grow food. He’s watched the interest in locally grown fruits and veggies spike in the last year or so. He says when the economy tanked people began looking for new ways to save.

“The demand went up exponentially, pretty much over night. And all of sudden we realized that we had three to four times more demand, all of sudden.”

Basically, people starting asking, “Why buy my arugula at Kroger when I can save a few bucks and grow it myself?” Sharon Siehl is with Recipes for Success and co-chairs the Houston Food Policy Workgroup with Crossley. She says, for Houstonians, something more caused people to rethink where those tomatoes and oranges come from.

“The issue of access to food really hit home to people in the Houston region during and after Hurricane Ike in 2008, because when you have no electricity and refrigeration is down, obviously you can’t be storing food, you can’t be receiving deliveries from places as far away as New Zealand, or South Africa. And so, it really hit home to people that the food system in Houston is very fragile and very dependent on food items coming from far away.”

But even though more communities are building their own veggie patches, Siehl cautions that there’s still a ways to go to ensure that all Houstonians have access to local, affordable produce, or any produce for that matter.

“One of the areas that we know, for example, through my work with Recipes for Success, is the neighborhood of Fifth Ward, where a lot of families, the place that they get their food, is either from a convenient store, or a corner store, even a liquor store. So we know at those kinds of places that produce is either non-existent or very expensive.”

The Houston Food Policy Workgroup is in the preliminary stages of conducting a comprehensive assessment of the region’s entire food network. It hopes to collaborate with local farmers, supermarkets, government agencies, and others to identify and address the gaps in the food system, and help establish a more sustainable food culture.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Wendy Siegle.

This story originally aired July 19, 2010.