Shopping for more than food

Haylee Wasson. Photo by Evan Stark

BERKELEY, Calif. — These days, farmers’ markets aren’t only a great way to provide a community with fresh, seasonal food, but they also capture a unique experience.  And the farmers’ market on Center Street in downtown Berkeley is no exception.  From the vast array of customers to the entertainment to the farmers themselves, and, of course, the food, this market is 21 years in the making, and is still evolving.  “[Our] primary purpose is to connect urban consumers and rural farmers,” said Ben Feldman, program manager of the Ecology Center.  In fact, this connection is so apparent, its almost tangible, as hundreds of Berkeley residents peruse from tent to tent, gathering their locally grown fruits and vegetables.

A wide variety of vegetables including fresh picked carrots. Photo by Maile Greenhill

It’s as if the world condensed into a single farmers’ market.  When describing the variety of world flavors that this market has to offer, it’s surprising that 80 percent of the products come within a 100-mile radius.  Indeed, the avocados, guavas, mangoes, coffee, organic rice and meats all come from California farms, most of them local.  “Local is important,” said Feldman, emphasizing the necessity of access to “Good, quality food.”  But while local ensures the superiority of the food, a variety of products is equally important.  “[We look for] diversity in farms,” said Feldman, “and not just the products they’re selling.”

Therefore, qualifying the farmers’ market as a virbrant source of eccentricity is no overstatement.  But when put together, the sounds of the bluegrass music and a soft guitar while a clown quietly blows up balloons gives the entire place a sense of friendliness and  innocence.  This may be why so many family groups are attracted to the market.  “[There were] fewer people to sart with…” said Jim Tabloy, a beekeeper from Happy Quail Farms.  But now that more people are aware of the market, it’s not hard to see the extra effort put into the entire establishment to make it the most one-of-a-kind experience as possible.  “It’s a pretty popular market,” said Tabloy, “so we get the best growers, too.”  And the popularity of this farmers’ market has become a way of life for the people of Berkeley.