BERKELEY, Calif. — The Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market has been around since its establishment by the Ecology Center in 1990, and has attracts more 60 vendors and hundreds of customers each week. The market offers a variety of fruits, vegetables, breads and much more. It’s a great opportunity for producers, said Ben Feldman of the Ecology Center. By cutting out the middleman, they get full retail price. But not everyone can set up shop.
The Ecology Center’s primary purpose here is “to connect urban consumers with rural producers,” says Feldman. “Consumers really wanted direct access to fresh, seasonal produce.” In order to deliver those ideals to customers, he said his nonprofit had to make sure their vendors were the best of the best. Hopefuls must complete an application process, and even then, access to a spot along Center Street is not on a first-come, first-serve basis. Farmers must first apply directly to the Ecology Center. “The vendors must reflect the community,” says Feldman. “They have to meet the criteria we are looking for and be the right kind of vendor.”
Farmers must present a Certified Producer’s Certificate, which involves having their farms reviewed by an agricultural inspector from their county . The inspector writes down everything that the applicant produces, and the candidate is only permitted to sell from that list. If he or she is found selling anything other than what’s on the list, they will be immediately taken out of the running. When a vendor leaves the market, the Ecology Center
contacts another one from the folder, based on what they’re looking for. In order to keep the balance on the variety of produce, they will never replace a “farm with a non-farm,” said Feldman. For example, if a vegetable producer were to leave, they would replace him or her with another vegetable producer.
The Ecology Center’s Farmers’ Markets are “notable for [their] high percentage of organic growers,” he said, and 85 percent of vendors come from within 100 miles of the markets. The center bans methyl bromide and methyl iodide, and all produce has to be free of genetic modifications and pesticides. The markets have a zero- waste policy that eliminates the need for sending trash to the city landfill. They are dedicated to ensuring that customers get fresh, seasonal produce. Feldman says, “Those original visions are still what drive us.”