If you’ve been to the farmers market on Saturday mornings at the St. John parking lot on Westheimer at Buffalo Speedway, you have surely noticed its director, Tyler Horne. He’s the unflappable boyish-looking guy with answers to a constant stream of questions from shoppers, staff and vendors.
Horne left a job in corporate consulting in 2010 to join Urban Harvest, the homegrown non-profit dedicated to cultivating communities through gardening and access to healthful, local food. The Houston native is passionate about making connections and bringing people together. In his free time, he enjoys canoeing, fishing, hosting dinner parties with his wife and spending time with their young daughter and two rescue dogs.
We recently reached out to Horne with a few nosy questions.
What was your earliest ambition?
When I was in high school, I thought being a business executive would be the path I would follow. As I watched the collapse of Enron in a very personal way, I took a step back. My brother ran a non-profit with an impactful mission, and I started thinking about my life’s purpose around that time.
Tell us about your education. University or straight into work?
I went to Texas State University for a few years, had a lot of fun – maybe too much fun – and then finished up at Houston Baptist University where my parents were both professors. I worked full-time through college and was grateful to have many internships and jobs that exposed me to the working world. My double degrees in businesses management and mass communications have proved helpful in running a farmers market.
The least favorite thing about your job?
Dealing with the Porta Potty company makes the top of that revolving list this week. My job is running a small business with a lot of moving parts and stakeholders to make happy. The behind-the-scenes work is not glamorous, but it has to been done to keep the show going.
What was your most cherished toy as a child?
My first guitar, a black Fender Stratocaster that I’ve owned since 1995. I can still remember plugging it in for the first time and strumming a chord. I was hooked, and I am forever going to be a Fender fan. I am in the process of rebuilding that guitar with a good friend of mine. It holds an important place in my collection.
What is your biggest extravagance?
I’ve always been a German car nut. I’ve daily driven some fairly iconic sports cars over the years, but my heart has always been in love with the slow and pokey 1960s Volvos that were pretty and practical. I have two of them. My wife would probably say that my flyfishing hobby takes up a sizable chunk of her office.
In what place are you happiest?
I love being on the water. In a boat on West Bay, on a beach at sunrise, flyfishing a small stream, or paddling a canoe down a winding river. It centers me and gives me time to be in my head. I love the time it affords me with my friends and family to have quality one-on-one conversations without any distractions.
“At 5 pm, I’m usually thinking about …”
Things are different these days with a little one. These days, I am usually thinking about what we are going to cook for dinner and making sure I am not late for daycare pickup.
Who has been your mentor?
I’ve been very lucky to have several important people in my life who have guided me both personally and professionally. My mother is always just a call away to offer wisdom and support; she’s such a thoughtful, hardworking example of what it means to put your family before all else, but not at the expense of professional success. I love that. My dear friend’s father, Pat has always been pushing me to use my skills to advance my career and think outside the box. He’s always got a great idea for me, or someone I need to meet. His entrepreneurial spirit is infectious and makes me want to start my own business one day.
What’s the mantra of Urban Harvest?
Urban Harvest’s mission since its inception is to help people to connect with their food on a deeper level. Originally, we helped get community gardens started throughout the city, which led to the farmers markets and myriad classes for kids and adults ranging from growing organic vegetables to how to forage for food around Houston. During the pandemic we opened a mobile farmers market that serves food deserts and furthers our food-access program. It really is about growing food and growing through food.
Who is your top cultural icon?
Anthony Bourdain was a big influence on my understanding of food and the approach that we use as travelers to experience a place. I had the chance to meet him when he was filming in Houston at Plant It Forward Farms, which was a special moment for me.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He’d be thrilled! I started volunteering at Urban Harvest when I was about that age, searching for something to fill the void I felt working my day job at the time. I did not anticipate that my volunteering would ever turn into my full-time job here. From where things were, looking back at my 20-year-old self, I know I’d be happy to see the changes in my life that transformed around that time, both personally and professionally.
Aside from Saturday, what do you actually do all day?
I personally go and inspect the kitchens and farms of our vendors. Recruiting high-quality vendors is one of my talents and the joy of my job. When I started at the market, we had about 25 vendors each Saturday. We are now at 100-plus, depending on the season. I spend a lot of time working with our existing vendors to help them grow their business, apply for grants and maintain relationships. I also help connect chefs with our vendors and work on a series of fundraising dinners we host throughout the year with some of Houston’s best chefs.
What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know?
The best road trip of my life was deciding we wanted to drive to the end of the road in North America, which turned out to be Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. We bought an old $500 Volvo wagon and took a month-long trip through all the national parks to get there. The car only broke down so bad we could not fix it with hand tools once when the exhaust system fell off somewhere outside Bozeman, Montana. A guy living in an old Airstream welded it back on to the frame for us for $40. We logged over 8,000 miles on that trip.
Same question for the Urban Harvest’s Saturday market: A fun fact that most people don’t know.
“Bonsai” Phil is the unofficial mayor of the market. We are not quite sure at any moment where to find him as he oftentimes likes to leave his booth and visit with vendors and customers. We met in 2011, and I convinced him he’d make a great addition to our market, and I am so glad I did. He also has the thankless, but very important job of helping us haul off the trash each week for many years. He’s one of the first to arrive and the last to leave on market day. Make sure and stop by his booth for fresh flowers and bonsai trees near the entrance of the market.
What is your favorite food and drink pairing?
For the last 12 years our Valentine’s Day tradition is staying home on purpose to avoid the crowds, ordering fried chicken and opening the best bottle of Champagne we have on hand. Salty with bubbles is the best! I also really love a cold bottle of Chablis or any white Burgundy with oysters and crawfish.
Do you have a secret talent (e.g. musical, athletic, artistic)?
I’ve started shooting film cameras again. I had a home darkroom for years and have always dabbled in photography, but the iPhone has taken some of the magic away and replaced it with instant gratification and perfect photos. Shooting film really makes you slow down, think about the composition and the technical aspects, take a deep breath and press the shutter. I love that it takes a few weeks for the processing to come back to see if what you envisioned actually turned out that way on film.
What websites or apps do you always have open?
The Economist and WSJ for news. For good food journalism, Civil Eats is a regular read. Spotify is always playing in my house because I need music constantly going. Dark Sky is the absolute best weather app I use to check the weather for Saturdays. As far as daily emails, Bring a Trailer and Cars & Bids to look at all the fun cars for sale. I also love Atlas Obscura for its inspiring global content and Escape Houston for finding cheap flights all over the world.
Your friend is coming to Houston and has never been before. What must they do while they’re here?
I love to show people my hometown and maintain an up-to-date list of places to explore, eat and drink that I can send out on a moment’s notice.
Eat: Himalaya, Huynh, Giacomo’s, Rosie Cannonball, Nancy’s Hustle
Drink: 13 Celsius, Rudyard’s, Shiloh Club, La Carafe
Do: Chinatown, The Menil, Armand Bayou Nature Center, Beer Can House, Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, MFAH, Aurora Picture Show, The Continental Club