Berkeley’s open-air market: venue for community connection

Shoppers examine produce at the Saturday Berkeley Farmers' Market

BERKELEY, Calif.—Bright tents, colorful fruit stands, and freshly baked pastries greet Berkeley residents on an early Saturday morning at the city’s largest Farmers’ Market, founded by the Berkeley Ecology Center in 1987. At the corner of Center and Martin Luther King Jr. streets,  customers stroll and shop at more than 60 vendors, most whom have been selling their goods at the market for more than 10 years. Local patrons return week after week to purchase groceries, taste peach samples and listen to live music.

Mitchell, a Berkeley resident, attends the market regularly,he greets Bob Bernstein, the apple cider salesman, as an old friend. Bernstein runs Pomo Tierra Ranch.

At the market, with  20 prepared food salesmen, and 40 farmers, the vendor turnover is low, allowing them to establish personal relationships with their customers. Brian Ogle, proprietor of OctoberFeast Bakery, cites these relationships as the primary reason for selling at the market. “We like customer interaction versus dropping off at a grocery store,” he said, We like connecting people with good products in a good atmosphere.”

Annabelle Lenderink, owner of  La Tercera,  sells  fresh beans, shallots, winter squash, tomatoes and plums at the market. Her stall at the Berkeley was started 20 years ago. She attends two of the three weekly Berkeley markets, and,  has a loyal base. Along with local individuals, Lenderink’s customers include  Chez Panisse, famous for serving local, in-season food on its ever-changing menus.

On the far corner of the market, Gourmet Coffee Stand offers its fresh brew along with baked goods, salads and desserts to hungry customers. This was established six years ago, and is frequented by patrons of its flagship store as well. Staff member Danielle Windrix said, “I like selling at the market because it increases communication skills with the customers. Everything is baked in the morning at 5 a.m.and has to be fresh to sell.” Similar ideals are held by other members of the market community. Ogle said, “We always make sure it [our food] gets fresh to the customers, otherwise, we throw it away.”

Contributing writer: Ali Solon

For a vendor director: www.ecologycenter.org/bfm