Destination of the Week: Houston
Despite its Texas-sized sprawl, Houston doesn't have a problem with going green.
Sat, Apr 25, 2009 at 05:50 AM
Let's face it: When it comes to green locales, the oil-drenched, meat-loving state of Texas likely doesn't make the top 10 list. And according to the New York Times, Houston ranks as the "worst recycler among the United States' 30 largest cities," diverting a mere 2.6 percent of its total waste stream to recycling facilities.
But deep in the heart of Houston thrives a budding environmental scene that's set on cleaning up the city's dirty reputation.
The abundant sunshine in Texas makes it an ideal place for solar energy, and the Houston Renewable Energy Group is dedicated to educating residents and businesses about making the switch. Its website's links page also offers an impressive collection of renewable-energy resources.
Meanwhile, homeowners who want to enhance their property with native plants can contact Nature's Realm Landscaping. The company strives to provide the Houston area with landscape designs that are "both aesthetically beautiful and environmentally sound."
Agriculture in Texas generally means cattle and commodity crops, but a community of small, organic family farms is sprouting up like welcome weeds.
The Houston Farmers Market features more than 25 vendors, offering everything from produce to homemade baked goods, flowers and even a knife-sharpening service. Houston also features two other farmers markets: the Midtown Farmers Market and Bayou City Farmers Market. And while America's favorite natural-foods mega store, Whole Foods, was born three hours away in Austin, Houston boasts the largely volunteer-run Central City Co-op, which offers members their choice of organic produce from a cooperative of local growers.
Nearby in Brenham, Texas, Home Sweet Farm grows organic vegetables and herbs and hosts Market Days — a monthly event that brings together organic growers and artisanal food producers. The farm also delivers its produce once a week to several CSAs, including one hosted at the Jewish Community Center in Houston. In their spare time, farmers Brad and Jenny Stufflebeam also host Home Sweet Farm Radio, which features regular podcasts with sustainable foodies from Texas and beyond.
Houston residents who want to get in on the growing action can check out the Last Organic Outpost, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 that works to foster urban agriculture throughout Houston.
Houston's restaurant scene has caught sustainability fever. Laurier Cafe & Wine Bar features local, seasonal ingredients and hormone-free meat from Niman Ranch. The Onion Creek Cafe offers eclectic diner fare (like the curious bacon-cheddar waffle), and serves as the home of the Houston Farmers Market. And A Moveable Feast doubles as a natural food store and cafe, offering customers hearty, mostly vegetarian fare.
Curious diners can find many more local and sustainable flavors in the recently published Food Lovers Guide to Houston.
Want to learn how to cook a vegetarian Italian feast or grow herbs under the Houston sun? Lucia's Garden offers regular classes in gardening, herb crafting and cooking. The shop, founded by Lucia and Michael Bettler in 1984, also hosts an extensive selection of books, incense and other earthy treats.
Houstonites feeling a bit more active can volunteer with the Eco-Paddle Association in nearby Galveston. The association surveys the wildlife and habitat of the Galveston Bay, while working to increase public awareness of the bay's natural resources. The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center offers even more opportunities to connect with Texas' wildlife.
Getting around one of the country's most sprawl-friendly cities without a car is certainly a challenge. But through a mix of education, activism and enthusiasm, BikeHouston gives bike lovers and alternative-transportation advocates a leg up.
Eco-minded shoppers can find everything from pre-worn threads to natural soaps and even anarchist literature in Houston. The Way We Wore stocks hip, vintage clothing and costumes. Florapathics is a 100 percent natural body-care company that keeps Houston clean with its body scrubs, shampoos and lotions that don't contain any synthetic dyes or harsh chemicals. And readers looking for 'zines, pamphlets and other literature with a decidedly counterculture flair can check out Sedition Books. The self-described "anarchist info shop" played host to the eco-anarchist, Earth First road show in March 2009.
Hot off the presses! The eco-chic event-planning company Green Lily Events is launching a series of monthly environmental networking events called EcoSocials. Houston's green community can now meet, shmooze and brainstorm while sipping tasty cocktails.
Grassroots-minded residents can also check out Make it Green Houston, a new virtual and real-life community of individuals committed to exploring and expanding Houston's green resources.
(MNN homepage photo: jonmatthew photography/Flickr)