Several local organizations came together Thursday night to finalize paperwork for a new grant opportunity aimed at improving farmers markets and downtowns.

Spearheaded by Downtown Houston Inc., the meeting attracted a cross-section of persons interested in increasing opportunities for the local farmers market and the downtown.

“Local Foods, Local Places” is the newly announced program. The application to submit a letter of intent is July 15.

The program is aimed at:

•Boosting economic opportunities for local farmers and businesses, and foster entrepreneurship.

•Improving access to healthy local food, particularly among disadvantaged groups with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

•Revitalizing downtowns, main street districts and traditional neighborhoods by supporting farmers’ markets, food hubs, community gardens, community kitchens and other kinds of local food enterprises, and by providing people with affordable choices for accessing those amenities, such as walking, biking or taking transit.

Much work has already been done locally toward many of the farmers market goals: The organization recently was awarded a $30,000 USDA Rural Development grant for shades for the copper awning at the pavilion used by the farmers market and equipment that will be used at a commercial kitchen in a building north of the plaza. It is hoped that cooking classes also can be offered.

The organization also is seeking contributions through the Neighborhood Assistance Program for the annex building to the north of the plaza and renovation of the Melba Theatre. A website is at A new roof is needed, along with interior remodeling. Donors receive a generous tax break on state tax obligations (70 percent of the donation) and also can write the donation off on federal returns. For some, a contribution costs little or nothing.

Downtown Houston Inc. also is working with Masters Gardens and Texas County, along with USDA Rural Development —  to purchase a high tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure, for use at the county garden at the justice center. It would lengthen the growing season. A community garden also is situated at the Loretto House behind Mercy Clinic in Houston.

The Houston Farmers Market, overseen by a recently formed board and market director, is open 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays (expanded hours) and 7 a.m. until noon Fridays.

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