BERKELEY, Calif. — “I believe strongly in unpolluted food. It’s just healthier — for us, and for the environment,” said Shirley Timble, owner of Moonlite Bakery. She is one of more than 60 vendors who sell their organic goods at the Ecology Center’s Saturday farmers’ market, one of four weekly markets serving 10,000 customers in Berkeley.
The first of these farmers’ markets was opened in 1987 with the vision of “connecting urban consumers with rural farmers,” said Ben Feldman, program director of the Ecology Center. “We want our venders to reflect the community,” Feldman added.
The direct connection between grower and buyer permeates the process for all the vendors in the farmers’ markets, and vendors must apply to the Ecology Center to ensure that their products are environmentally friendly and help create a broad shopping experience.
“People come to us for things they can’t find in a store,” said Kira Tolla, a member of the Loewen family, which owns Blossom Bluff Family Farm and sells organically grown fruit. Everything from fruits to vinegars and olive oils to baked goods is sold at these markets, where sellers can receive the best price for their goods. Since farmers’ markets are a relatively small industry, some famers there also sell their goods wholesale. Blossom Bluff’s most consistent buyers are restaurants and grocery stores, though.
The personal relationship between grower and buyer makes farmers’ markets unique, with side conversation and friendliness surrounding each purchase. “Farmers’ markets are a better way to get our name out,” Tolla said. Running a small organic business comes with its economic challenges, though. “Costs are a lot higher,” said Shirley Timble, owner of Moonlite Bakery.
“I could pass on those costs to the customers, or I could take a smaller profit,” said Timble when talking about her business strategy. “It’s more important to me, though, to use good food. Profit is not my main motivator.” As farmers markets continue to expand, growers and buyers continue to share a personal relationship and a love for good food. Timble added, “When I was a kid, I went into a French bakery and ate a vanilla eclair. I said ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’ “