Potted medicinal herbs and zucchinis line the exterior of Southtown’s newest grocery store, Urban Farm Stand. Inside, baskets of heirloom tomatoes grown at Mission San Juan‘s farm sit next to glass jars of Strawberry Mimosa Jam.
The smell of fresh beet and coconut soup, made that morning by Urban Farm Stand owner Gretchen Haynes, permeates the small sunlit shop that acts as an indoor farmer’s market.
“I wanted to make a permanent space that would be open year-round so that market growers and farmers would have an outlet, a reliable place with regular hours that were convenient for their work day,” said Karen Haynes, Gretchen’s daughter and the woman who runs the store.
The small store will be closed on Sundays during the summer, but open from noon-7 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday.
Urban Farm Stand wants to be the connection between farmers and consumers in the Southside. Gretchen, Karen and their business partner Patti Hinkley collect produce from more than a dozen local vendors and sell them in their store on South Presa Street, which opened in November of 2015. Along with the produce, they sell cook books, cooking tools, dog food, farmer’s market bags, pickles, salsa and homemade desserts and boozy jams.
Karen and Patti run the shop while Karen’s mother, who she refers to as the “Queen Bee,” does the business’ paperwork and accounting.
All of the produce is non-GMO and grown with sustainable methods without harmful chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides, according to Karen. A small amount of the store’s produce, such as the apples and pineapple, is from out-of-state fair trade vendors because they can’t be found locally.
Despite the shop’s high standards and the typical cost of farm fresh goods, their prices are surprisingly low. Corn is $.25 an ear and beets are $2 per bushel. For reference, at H-E-B, organic corn is $.98 per ear and organic beets run for $2.48 each.
Karen said she estimates that 60% of their customers are returning — many of them she knows by name. Some come in frequently for small purchases, others subscribe to receive $25 produce baskets, delivered by Karen to the customer’s home or workplace each month.
Gretchen and Karen come from a family of farmers. Karen, the granddaughter of two champion Dahlia growers, grew up gardening in the backyard with Gretchen and attending farm camps.
After a New York summer that hit freezing temperatures several years ago, Karen decided it was time to join her sister and mother back in her hometown, San Antonio. She left behind her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm and moved into a bungalow with no gardening space in the backyard and only two small green patches in the front.
She knew she needed more space to garden, so she enlisted the help of her mom and together they built a 9-by-15-foot greenhouse to grow organic vegetables, which they eventually turned around and sold at the local farmer’s market.
“I pursued farming because it’s in my blood and I need it,” Karen said. “Once you start, it’s really hard to walk away from it — you can’t let it go.”
After hanging around farmer’s markets long enough, Karen said she realized how inefficient and cost ineffective it was for farmers to spend so many hours selling their goods instead of growing them.
“One family farm run by a shiny, happy couple cannot be at five markets all day long,” Karen said. “It takes about an hour to load, an hour to set up, several hours to be there — and you’re talking about prime time during the day that you’re at the market and not in your fields.”
After talking to her mother and Patti, the three women decided to open Urban Farm Stand to help those farmers in December 2015.
“What I am interested in is a sustainable business that works for the producers and the consumers,” Karen said. “I don’t need to make a million dollars. I live a simple life and I am quite happy. But I want to see this place succeed and be sustainable and be able to support the farmers so that they can afford health insurance and take vacations like (people in) a normal profession, and I’d love to see consumers from all economic (backgrounds) eat well and eat locally.”
Top image: The entrance to Urban Farm Stand which faces South Presa Street. Photo by Scott Ball.