Almost everything in local gardens starts to wilt a bit in August, but not okra. Hot weather just makes okra stand taller and get tougher. OkraFest, the annual fundraising celebration benefitting Galveston’s Own Farmers Market, celebrates this tenacity, and its own, on Thursday at the Garten Verein in Kempner Park. OkraFest runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and includes food, beverages and a silent auction with items from more than 150 local businesses.
“OkraFest is a vital part of the market’s operations, because the proceeds allow us to offer some unique programs to the community,” market manager Casey McAuliffe said. “Our Food Access, Young Gardeners and Real Food programs all depend on the funds we raise at OkraFest.”
OkraFest attendees will learn more about these programs while eating dishes, some with okra and others without, prepared by five local restaurants and sipping on beverages from Galveston Island Brewing Company, Haak Winery and Daiquiri Time Out.
Soul 2 Soul restaurant will be serving their acclaimed fried ribs, paired with okra succotash, and Old Moon Deli and Pies is making roasted vegetable sandwiches filled with grilled okra, eggplant and other vegetables from the market. “One thing that’s different about this year’s OkraFest is that we get to showcase local restaurants,” McAuliffe explained. “All five of them are supportive of Galveston’s Own Farmers Market in one way or another. Some of them incorporate our seasonal produce into their menus.”
Smooth Tony’s, a longtime supporter of the market, puts the spotlight back on the market’s offerings with an OkraFest offering of Caprese salad made entirely of produce and cheese from the market.
OkraFest attendees also get a sneak peek at the new restaurant concept planned by Katie’s Seafood House for a Fall 2018 opening. Chef Mary Bass, executive chef at Katie’s, will be serving okra gumbo and spoonbread in a special OkraFest preview of the Katie’s venture.
One beneficiary of OkraFest is the Young Gardeners program, a collaboration with Galveston Independent School District that will reach three elementary schools this fall. “Young Gardeners is embedded at Rosenberg, Oppe and Morgan to create a new generation of kids growing their own food,” McAuliffe said. “The kids do the gardening with the help of volunteers, and go home with fresh food. There are also other activities in conjunction with gardening, from creating poetry about vegetables to the basics of microbiology.”
The event’s proceeds also go to the market’s Fresh Box program, which encourages SNAP recipients to buy fresh produce by supplementing the SNAP benefits with additional market credits. “We’re the only market in Galveston County participating in this Department of Agriculture program, and one of only a few in the whole area,” McAuliffe said.
The market’s community cooking classes and community dinners are also supported by OkraFest. The community dinners grew out of the Family Service Center’s parenting program, Incredible Years,” McAuliffe explained. “The Family Service Center was providing dinner so that parents could come to classes, but it was mostly pizza, so we started bringing dinner with produce from the market and talking about our food programs. Now we’ve branched out and cooked for groups at Rosenberg Library and Gulf Breeze Apartments, with help from groups that work with the market, like the nursing students at UTMB.”
OkraFest tickets are available online through August 8 for $42 at galvestonsownfarmersmarket.com, and will be available at the door for $50.