This Earth Day, Go Local, Go Green

Coupon man: former attorney and real estate professional Elliot Gerstenhaber says marketing GoLocalHouston coupon books, which provide discounts at locally owned and operated businesses, feels more like “actually doing something for the community.”

Houston provides plenty of places to ‘keep it close’
by Marene Gustin • sidebars by Steven Foster and Nancy Ford

Are you on Team Greed or Team Green?

You know what the only right answer to that question is.

Okay, April 22 is Earth Day—a day to seriously think about reducing carbon emissions and supporting sustainability. Do you want to decrease your carbon footprint (the impact your activities have on the environment), aid the local economy, help save the planet, and get some good deals? Then you need to go local. Because by buying local, you go green.

“I buy all my produce at the City Hall Farmers Market [managed by Urban Harvest],” says Laura Spanjian, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. And it’s not just because the market comes under her job jurisdiction. “It helps the environment and it helps the local economy,”
she says.

“Mayor Annise Parker started the Office of Sustainability, and she was instrumental in launching the City Hall Victory Garden at Tranquility Park and the weekly Wednesday City Hall Farmers Market,” Spanjian adds. “Right now, our office is looking to expand gardens in schools, add kitchen incubators for local food makers, and create mobile food markets for ‘food deserts’ in the city where residents don’t have access to fresh, local produce.”

Providing fresh, local vegetables is something the Central City Co-op has been doing for a decade. “It started with 13 people on the front porch,” laughs the nonprofit’s board chairman Tiffany Tyler, “back when you couldn’t buy local organic produce at the corner grocery store. And the co-op just grew and grew.”

You’ll find the co-op at Grace Lutheran Church, 2515 Waugh Drive, every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. To shop at the co-op, you can buy an annual membership for $48, or a day pass for $2. And the first time you go, it’s free. Basically, it’s a farmers market without the farmers—which is great, says Tyler, for the smaller farmers who can’t spend time away from the farm to sell their produce.

“We have about a dozen local farms,” Tyler says, “so we have regional, fresh produce year-round. But we won’t have grapes in the winter, because they aren’t seasonal here. And we won’t import them from Chile because we’re about decreasing the carbon footprint and supporting the local economy. Ninety cents of every dollar you spend at the co-op stays here.”

Going local is also the idea behind the new Revival Market at 550 Heights Boulevard. The store/restaurant is like an old-fashioned country store, but everything they sell and make comes from within a 150-mile radius: fresh produce, artisan breads, meats, Gulf Coast seafood, locally roasted coffee, pasta, and house-made preserves, syrups, honey, pâtés, and charcuterie.

“Five years ago we couldn’t even dream of finding enough local produce to fill this shop,” says co-owner and farmer Morgan Weber. “But now we’re seeing a comeback of the small family farm, and this is a place to showcase their products.”

But going local isn’t just about eating local. “It’s about supporting the local economy, keeping the money in the city,” says GoLocalHouston founder Elliot Gerstenhaber.

Six months ago Gerstenhaber started the Houston franchise of GoLocal, an Austin-based company that sells $10-a-year discount cards for locally owned and operated businesses. “You know those thick coupon books you buy that you put in a drawer and never open until the coupons have expired?” asks Gerstenhaber. “This is a small plastic card you can carry in your wallet that will give you discounts to multiple area businesses.”

Currently, GoLocalHouston has 127 local businesses signed up, with more to come. For 10 bucks you can get various discounts at restaurants like Ruggles Green, Taco Milagro, and even the elegant La Colombe d’Or, retail shops including Chloe Dao’s Lot 8 and Fly High Little Bunny, dry cleaners, auto shops, photography studios, plumbers, and a lot more. And your card is also good at participating businesses in Austin and other GoLocal cities. “Often, the card can pay for itself in one visit to a local business,” Gerstenhaber explains.

You can buy a card at golocalhouston.com or any of the participating businesses. And GoLocal also helps support local charities like the Texas Children’s Hospital, which sells the cards in its gift shop and splits the sale price of each card with GoLocal.

So this Earth Day, when you think about buying something, think about doing it in a way that benefits the planet, yourself, and your community. Eating local is healthy for you and shrinks your carbon footprint, saves energy resources, and reduces pollution. Buying anything from local retailers keeps your tax dollars here and supports the local economy. In fact, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $68 comes back to the community. That same $100 spent at a national chain in your neighborhood re-circulates only $43 in the community.

“I’ve been an attorney, I’ve been in real estate,” says Gerstenhaber, “but this is the first time I’ve been in a business that is actually doing something for the community.”

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.


Garden guys: Rolando Laurenzo (l) and Domenic Laurenzo at Laurenzo’s Veggie and Herb Garden.

Not Your Basic Garden Variety

Laurenzo’s veggie and herb garden indulges and inspires


Planted in 2010, the Veggie and Herb Garden of local dining fave Laurenzo’s is bearing a farm-fresh bounty for fans of the local food movement. Vegetables and herbs grown in the garden—which are whisked, washed, and incorporated into the cuisine dreamed up by Kristopher Brown and Sandy Underwood—include crunch-worthy carrots, rich bok choy, hearty kale, earthy potatoes, herbs, a variety of lettuces, and other green goodies. But the garden does more than provide, it inspires the daily specials the restaurant whips up.

“The focus of the garden is to keep it simple,” head gardener Jeff Hilson explains. “We considered a sustainable style garden which allows us to harvest our own rainwater in a 700-gallon rain catch and irrigation system.”

While rainwater provides the moisture, the restaurant’s compost rebuilds the soil into a rich, fertile environment for the planted vegetables. What’s not given by the sky or the kitchen, local producers provide.

“All of our organic soils and fertilizers are made right here in Houston,” Hilson says.

The garden has grown so much throughout the year, Laurenzo’s plans to soon conduct garden classes with Wabash Feed Store’s crop consultant Russell Johnson.

Herbivores and chefs throughout Houston, you just found your nirvana.

For more information, contact Laurenzo’s gardener, Jeff Hilson, at [email protected]Steven Foster


Neumann’s Own

Houstonian Kiki Neumann is “world-class famous” for the thousands of earth-friendly products she has produced utilizing found objects and urban cast-offs for the past 15 years. “It’s all about recycling,” she explains. She fashions benches (left), birdhouses, tables, cabinets, dustpans made from old license plates, and myriad items made from street castoffs, each often displaying a colorful gay rainbow theme. One of the most popular items in Neumann’s line is her “Hurricane Angels,” fashioned from wood fencing knarled by Hurricane Ike and found strewn in the streets. Not available in stores, Neumann’s practical and beautiful creations are available at the 10-to-15 craft shows she attends annually, through silent auctions for local charities, and online at kikineumann.com. —Nancy Ford


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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