Fresh food readily available at McAllen farmer's market
Saturday morning, when the neon lights and club music fade away with the night, 17th Street becomes a stage for one of the Valley’s farmer’s markets.
The night life center of McAllen attracts local growers, ranchers, and farmers to Alhambra, a Mediterranean restaurant, to sell their fresh produce. The products include honey, meat, fruits and vegetables, with vendors occasionally offering samples to passing customers.
“You don’t have to deal with the drunks,” said James Canter, executive chef of Alhambra. “There is now a family sense to downtown.”
The market was started in October 2010 and is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Canter believes in using local foods in his home as well as in the restaurant, where burgers are made from local grass-fed beef and vegetables come from the farmer’s market. He opened the market to promote local produce and production.
“A farmer’s market is a new concept and gaining head way,” said Canter. “Restaurant’s aren’t using local foods, but a lot has gone into Alhambra using local providers to make the food.”
In the courtyard of Alhambra there are booths with canopies over head that house the vendors. An outdoor bar is surrounded by tables, making a mini-restaurant within the market serving anything from tamales to soup.
The bang of a knife against the cutting board is a constant reminder that food is being prepared for shoppers to buy and taste. The relaxed atmosphere, with it’s open space to walk from vendor to vendor, tables and chairs to sit at, and the aroma of food all around, is a comforting space to be in.
“The people are awesome and genuine,” said Isela Guerra, 28, a UTPA aluma and vendor for Anwar Fairtrade. “They (the vendors) are excited about what they sell.”
People from a wide range of demographics attend the farmer’s market. There is Alhambra’s night crowd, young families toting around babies in strollers looking for fresh greens, and people coming in to get orange juice squeezed right in front of them. UTPA anatomy professor Bonnie Gunn frequents the market.
“I come three times a month,” said Gunn. “I like the fresh vegetables, like mustard greens. They’re a little spicy and really good.”
Amidst the tables chalk full of vegetables and meat is a booth dedicated to demonstrating how to use the foods, courtesy of the Texas Food Revolution. The organization is a McAllen-based group with members ranging from chefs to regular people who want more than processed, store bought food and advocate local produce.
David Robledo, the market manager and one of the organization’s leaders, is promoting local production and consumption through the Texas Food Revolution booth.
“What you eat is reflected in attitude, not only health. Unhappy people eat the wrong foods, like junk food or processed foods,” Robledo said. “Farmer’s will tell you what goes into their foods.”
Fidel del Barrio, is a vendor and rancher from K2 Ranch based out of Atascosa County south of Pleasanton, Texas. He is testimony to this school of thought. His all-natural, grass-fed beef is touted as a healthier alternative to corn- and grain-fed counterparts it is produced without antibiotics, hormones or steroids, according to the K2 Ranch website.
“It’s heart healthier,” del Barrio said. “It costs a little more, but there is no substitution for good health.”
However, the market is not only a place to eat, buy and sell foods. As the concept expands to neighboring cities like Mission and Edinburg, Alhambra is also reaching out to the community.
The restaurant periodically provides meals to the children of The Rainbow Room, an emergency resource center where Child Protective Service workers help abused neglected children.
“Every week social workers take the kids out to a restaurant to eat. However, due to limited budgets, the workers use their own money, and it gets expensive,” said Gene Carangal of South Texas Pediatric Clinic, who attends the farmer’s market and brought up the cause to James Canter. “James offered to feed the kids at the restaurant.”
Yahweh Farms, a vendor at the market, has joined with Alhambra to collaborate on The Hope Project. Its focus is to teach people how to grow their own fruits and vegetables in a chemical-free environment.
“The Hope Project will include a community garden and the farmer’s market,” said Diana Padilla of Yahweh Farms. “We are teaching people to grow and make farms. If we trained people to grow, we could be a production center (for produce).”
The market “gave the farmers a stage,” according to Canter, and walking around the courtyard on a Saturday morning is proof of that, with fresh food galore and project’s to help people through food.
“Hopefully it helps the health in the family,” said Robledo. “You don’t need to be a big company to improve our community. Health through food.”