BERKELEY, Calif. — A father, holding his coffee, walks along the row of tents, pulling behind him a wagon containing his two young sons. A clown twists elongated balloons while shoppers look over the baskets of avocados. At the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, you can spend your Saturday morning on Center Street sampling fresh peaches or purchasing fresh maitake mushrooms to add an organic twist to your meals.
The Ecology Center‘s Berkeley Farmers’ Market began in 1987 on Derby Street, and the one on Center Street followed in 1990. Ben Feldman, Ecology Center program manager, described the center as a “multi-issue environmental nonprofit,” focused on supporting deserving California farms, providing recycling opportunities and organizing the farmers’ markets. One of the primary purposes of the market is to “connect urban consumers with rural farmers,” said Feldman. The farmers’ market has a zero-waste policy, and strives to eliminate landfill with recycling bins and certified-compostable tote bags instead of plastic bags. Any shopper who needs to use a plastic bag faces a 25-cent tax. The market also has a high percentage of organic producers, and maintains a ban on pesticides such as methyl bromide and methyl iodide.
All products at the markets come from California producers. Overall, the four farmers’ markets at different locations attract about 10,000 customers per week. The Center Street market is the largest of the four, and on a recent Saturday featured 60 vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meat from pasture-raised animals, flowers, vegan chocolate, fish and much more.
One vendor who has come to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market since its inception is Jim Talboy. He sells products from Happy Quail Farms based in East Palo Alto. Unlike many of the other sellers, Talboy offers a commodity produced by insects. Talboy’s honey differs from store-bought honey in the way the bees are kept. No drugs are fed into the beehives, and no sugar is added into the honey afterward. Talboy’s station in the market offers samples of different styles of honey. Different flowers give each type of honey its distinct flavor. Talboy also sells candles made from beeswax. Some candles are small and simple, and others, with intricate carvings, look fit to be displayed on the most elegant of dining tables.
Talboy’s long history at the farmers’ market has allowed him to observe its evolution. He noted that in the beginning, fewer people came to the market. Talboy said that, as time went on, people who went to the farmers’ market grew to enjoy the experience and eventually became regular shoppers, increasing the popularity of the event.
The market has grown over the years, yet the dedication to sustainable living remains. The Berkeley Farmers’ Market was established by Berkeley residents who wanted to buy directly from farmers, said Feldman, and “those original visions are still what drive us.”