For John Dombrowski farm-to-table is what he does every Thursday. After all, the Westchase District Farmers Market is located near Dombrowski’s longtime home in the Lakeside Forest neighborhood. Dombrowski arrives to the market with an empty canvas bag. After 30 minutes of shopping, it’s bulging with fresh produce, packaged goods, bottles and jars.
He’s the quintessential shopper. It makes him easy to spot and easy to miss. He’ll zig zag both sides of the market, dropping in on familiar vendors while checking out those new to the market. One moment he’s reviewing the wine selection at Houston Winery, the next he’s stocking up on ground coffee at Cafetto Specialty Coffee.
“John’s a man on a weekly quest who brings an appetite for discovery for his next at-home cooking adventure,” said John Carey, farmers market manager.
Although Dombrowski’s shopping list may vary by the week, he exclusively buys produce and eggs from PEAS Farm and not grocery stores. Dakota bread and other baked goods from Great Harvest Bread Company are another favorite. He’ll add smoked meats from The Bark BBQ, one of many prepared foods vendors whose menu items are ready to eat.
“John is as good of a customer as you will find,” said Carey. “He makes it a point to support multiple vendors and is always on the lookout for new items to try.”
Indulging on fresh flavor
“I shop the market for two reasons: to buy the freshest, healthiest, and most flavorful vegetables, meats and dairy products I can,” said Dombrowski. “Secondly, I want to support our local farmers and vendors.” Dombrowski knows he could get some things less expensive at the grocery store but doesn’t mind paying extra for quality. Dombrowski says fresher means tastier. He prefers food raised more natural and in an organic manner as better for his family. “I still buy from traditional grocery store if it is an item I need but can’t get at the Farmers Market.”
“People who shop with us are getting the freshest,” said Carey. “It hasn’t been shipped from far away or frozen. Our items were baked in the morning or picked last night. You will definitely taste the difference.”
Many vendors sell Dombrowski raw ingredients to use for his own meals. Within a 30-minute market spree, he’ll have what he needs to cook a great meal for himself and his wife Julia.
Getting to know you
“I like vendors who are passionate about their product and knowledgeable about how it was grown, raised or made,” said Dombrowski. If you ask farmer Brian Findeisen of Erbe Ranch about grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed, you’ll learn why grass-fed is leaner and more tender, making the meat taste more natural.
Another draw for Dombrowski is getting to know the vendors. Vendors are encouraged to get to know their customers – what satisfies them and how they use their products. “I find the social aspect of talking with the vendors to be fascinating,” said Dombrowski. “Growing up in suburban rather than rural America I was never exposed to where our food comes from or how it’s made. The vendors are quite gracious with their time and their stories. I have learned much about how food is grown or raised and the difficulties small farmers, ranchers and artisans face.”
Dombrowski enjoys that the market’s roster operates with core, mainstay vendors. “The market is very good about bringing in new vendors as others drop out or go to other markets. This has the effect of keeping the market experience new and interesting,” Dombrowski added.
A place for discovery
One positive consequence of COVID is the urge to explore after being isolated from others. Dombrowski has seen an increased number of customers come to the market who want to get out of the house and enjoy shopping outdoors in a relatively safe environment.
“They are discovering the treasures of our little market,” he said with the pride of someone who wants others to experience the delights he’s known about all along.