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Restaurants

The Farmers That Houston’s Best Restaurants Trust — These Produce Kings Keep it Fresh

Family-Run Success Bears Plenty of Fruit

BY // 02.10.19

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a new series on the local producers that keep Houston’s restaurant scene — and your kitchen — fresh.

For chefs, crafting the freshest meals in Houston doesn’t mean using every ingredient under the sun. It pays to be discerning. In the kitchen, the top chefs use only the best locally grown fruits and vegetables to make delectable dishes that’ll keep diners coming back for more.

Words like ripe, sprightly, lively spring to mind.

When it comes to produce, there’s one growing business that many of Houston’s best restaurants trust above all others.

Atkinson Farms’ third- and fourth-generation farmers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, working from dawn to long past dusk on their hundred acres in Spring. They aren’t green when it comes to harvesting greens.

Farming everything from artichokes to strawberries, eggplant to Swiss chard, beets to squash, is a labor of love. But the fruits of the labor — literally — are more than worth it for Mike Atkinson.

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“I guess it’s just kind of the job I do,” he tells PaperCity. “Getting up in the morning and going to work, that’s the way I’ve been raised. That’s the way I’ve always done it, the way my granddad did it, the way my daddy did it. You have to go to work.”

While farming comes to him and his son Bobby easily, it takes a lot of toiling. But when you’re that passionate, it doesn’t take a toll.

Strawberries are a terrible amount of work; temperamental tomatoes are delicate and hard to grow.

“They can be very difficult. Every day everything changes. That could be good, could be bad. I’m growing good things,” Atkinson says. “I’m growing good things.”

Every single step is considered carefully, starting with the water. “We get our water from our own two wells,” Atkinson says. “My plants drink the same water I drink. And they bathe in the same water I bathe in.”

Avid strawberry pickers travel out to Spring to get a taste. Farmers markets across the Houston area recognize the Atkinson difference. Every Saturday, you can find Atkinson’s fresh seasonal produce at Urban Harvest Farmers Market, The Woodlands Farmers Market and Memorial Farmers Market. Monthly farmers markets jaunts include Baytown, Friendswood and Bridgeland.

You could call customers loyal, and it’s no wonder why.

“I’m a little bit particular. If it’s not good enough for me to eat, I don’t sell it,” Atkinson says.

Devoted Houston Restaurants

Time has proven again and again that what’s good enough for Atkinson is good for every location of farm-to-table concepts Local Foods and Dish Society.

And foodies can recognize the familiar faces on Atkinson’s restaurant delivery route: Revival Market, Coltivare and Indianola’s Ryan Pera, plus UB Preserv’s and One Fifth’s Chris Shepherd.

“We try as hard as we can to put the very best product we can up for them. What we do is fresh. What we harvest today, that’ll be in their restaurant tomorrow,” Atkinson says.

Or, occasionally, the very same day. Earlier this week, Indianola forgot to send in their order. They called the farm at 8 am saying they forgot to send it in. By 12 o’clock, Atkinson had already harvested cauliflower. By that afternoon, it was at Indianola.

The farm takes the family-run aspect seriously. It runs from the farm, to the truck, to the restaurants. Atkinson and his son hand deliver 95 percent of their produce.

“It’s good. When I’m working with a restaurant I want to be the one to deliver it. We’re onsite, we’re hands-on. It’s always been that way,” Atkinson says.

It’s that level of service that chefs have come to expect, and it goes both ways. It’s even evolved into a friendship, more than a simple transaction.

“I like to treat people the way they treat me. They’re all great people, super people to work with. I go into UB Preserv and Chris Shepherd is there, he’ll come my way,” Atkinson says. “If I see Ryan Pera at Indianola, Revival Market, Coltivare, Ryan comes out of his way to talk to me, ask how everything is on the farm, how I’m doing.”.

He’s doing well, doing what he does best. He’s raising cantaloupe, tomatoes, kale, watermelon, even as the day-to-day constantly changes with the weather. One of the perks of farming at Atkinson? He can eat on the fresh, ripe produce bursting with flavor every day.

His every day bears fruit. Are you ready for a taste?

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