Hidalgo County’s first farmers market is ready for a new season with new classes, new street signs, a presence on Facebook and a new market in McAllen, according to organizers.

“It’s amazing how this program is growing,” said Dr. Luis Ribera, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist in Weslaco.

Ribera is among a long list of local experts scheduled to lend their expertise to the new crop of students who will grow and sell organic vegetables to the public this fall and winter.

“It’s a slow but steady growth; a healthy growth, just like the produce they sell,” he said.

It all started in 2007 when Barbara Storz, an AgriLife Extension horticulturist, saw an opportunity to help low-income residents become financially independent.

“We pulled in experts to teach people how to grow organic vegetables on their own property, then sell them to the public,” she said. “We called the program Grow’n Growers, and it hasn’t stopped growing.”

With the help of county officials, the North San Juan Farmers Market opened in early 2008 at North San Juan Park.

“My students were on a fast learning curve, but they were encouraged by the crowds of people who snapped up the organic vegetables,” she said. “Obviously, there was a demand for healthy, fresh produce and our program was off and running.”

Two markets each month during the 2009-10 harvest season convinced Storz that the farmers market success was neither a fluke nor a passing fad.

“Most of our inventory was sold within hours of opening our doors,” she said. “We were not only picking up new customers with each new market, we had more and more people who wanted in on the learning and growing side of this enterprise. We almost couldn’t help but expand.”

The new crop of Grow’n Growers students met Aug. 25 for orientation; classes start Sept. 1.

“We had about 23 people show up for orientation, but we still have room for more students,” Storz said. “Most of our new students want to grow vegetables in their backyards, but some have five, ten, up to 290 acres they want to use.”

Beginning in November and running through mid-June, consumers this season will have an opportunity to buy organic vegetables each Saturday of the week.

“We’ll have a farmers market in San Juan on the first and third Saturday of the month, then in McAllen on the second and fourth Saturday of the month,” Storz said.

The San Juan markets are held at North San Juan Park, on the Nolana extension. The McAllen markets will be held at the Arts Incubator on South 16th St., four blocks north of Expressway 83.

“Permanent road signs are being erected by the City of San Juan to direct customers to the market there,” Storz said. “We’ll have local chefs at both market locations to share their recipes and demonstrate their cooking styles, and people can keep up with our efforts on Facebook, under Grow’n Growers.”

There is a $30 fee for the organic vegetable growing classes which meet each Wednesday through June 2011 beginning Sept. 1.

For more information, contact Storz at 956-383-1026.