With two thriving locations, Galveston’s Own Farmers Market has plenty to celebrate, and the market’s annual Okrafest event provides the opportunity. “When we had our first Okrafest two years ago, it was sort of a tongue-in-cheek theme for a fundraiser, but now we’ve totally embraced the idea,” market manager Casey McAuliffe said. “In some ways, the farmers market is like okra: they both thrive in the heat, they’re both local, and they can both surprise you.”

One other thing that okra and the market share is that Chef Mary Bass can bring out the best in them. A longtime patron of the market and its vendors for her catering, culinary classes and the meals she turns out as executive chef at Haak Winery, Bass will be Okrafest’s guest chef. The event is scheduled for Thursday at the Top Gallant Room.

Bass’ menu for Okrafest includes panzanella, an Italian bread-based salad, with pickled okra, and stewed okra with baby shrimp served on spoonbread. “We’ll also have a huge antipasto board with grilled okra, along with other grilled vegetables and cheeses,” Bass explained. “There will be plenty for people who don’t like okra, including pork and Anaheim chile empanadas made with ground pork from one of the market’s vendors.”

Proceeds from Okrafest help to keep the market operating, and support its special initiatives to bring fresh, healthy food to more of the community. “Okrafest helps us to offer our Fresh Bucks program, which matches up to $15 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, so that SNAP recipients can stretch their dollars while choosing fresh food,” McAuliffe explained. “Okrafest also helps to support our community cooking classes, both at the market and at WIC (a supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children) clinics. I’d like the farmers market to be about building a healthier life, and that’s for everyone.”

Galveston’s Own Farmers Market is open on Sunday mornings at its downtown location, 2508 Postoffice St. and on Thursday afternoons from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. at Menard Park, in the grassy area behind McGuire-Dent Recreation Center. More than 20 small farms, ranches, beekeepers, and bakers are vendors, offering seasonal produce and a wide variety of other edibles.

The vendors are taking an active role in Okrafest, donating as many of the evening’s ingredients as possible. “Third Coast Kombucha is making kombucha cocktails, and Jackie Foret of Jackie’s Gourmet pickled about forty pounds of okra for the panzanella,” McAuliffe said.

Other beverage choices are provided by companies who are not vendors but support the farmers market and the community outreach and education made possible by Okrafest. “Galveston Island Brewing is donating all the beer, and the wine comes from Haak Winery,” McAuliffe said.

Okrafest is scheduled for 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday. The evening includes food, drinks, a silent auction and raffle, and live music. “The band, Sabrason Ensemble, has played at the market several times, and people love their Afro-Latino inspired jazz,” McAuliffe said. Tickets for Okrafest are available at Thursday’s market or online at galvestonsownfarmersmarket.com for $40, or at the door at the Top Gallant Room, 2301 Strand, for $45.

Bernice Torregrossa: bernice92@aol.com.

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