The good, the offbeat, the healthy: vendors at Berkeley’s Farmers’ Market


The Saturday Berkeley Farmers' Market has roughly 60 vendors who sell a wide variety of local food and produce. Photo by Evan Stark

BERKELEY, Calif. — One of them has been selling honey for 28 years.  Another was inspired by a dream to start a business serving vegetables in flax-seed cones. Yet another decries the flaws in society as he seeks to provide treatment for injured soldiers.   The allure of the shopping experience at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market is just as much about the people who sell as it is about the food.  The market proudly boasts that all of its local comes from within 200 miles and only from California, with 80 percent of everything sold certified organic.  The variety of produce ranges from fresh flowers to meats, breads, fish and desserts. Since 1990, the Berkeley Farmers’ Market has provided the community with plethora of produce and an endless supply of intriguing vendors.

James Hall is one of the 60 or more vendors who make up the market.  His food stand, Rawdaddy’s Fun Cone Food, specializes in serving unique dishes in flax-seed cones.  Although he had been coming to the market for only eight weeks, Hall said that his business was much better because of the exposure the market offered. His most popular dishes are the Spicy Thai Salad Cone and the Forest and Earth Mushroom Cone.  Hall said the inspiration for his business was an idea that “came to me in a dream after I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.” He said the portion of the book that struck him was the section that explained that McDonald’s was trying to get people to eat their vegetables in one hand, since people eat “20 percent” of their meals in their car.  So he decided that if he put vegetables in healthy, flax-seed cones, people would be able to, indeed, eat their vegetables in one hand.

Hall has taken an unconventional route to becoming a farmer.  He worked in the food business from from ages 14 through 27.  Then he founded a computer company which earned roughly $30 million in revenue, but he recently sold his company and to get back to doing what he loves.  He hopes to at some point franchise his stand and make it a profitable chain.

Meanwhile, vendor and beekeeper Jim Talboy and Happy Quail Farms have been a mainstay of the Farmers’ Market since its inception.  Talboy, one of the original vendors, is quiet and unassuming,  and said the greatest allure of the market was the fact that one could “sell your stuff without connection to a mark.” His hives produce up to 50 pounds of honey, which he sells in many different varieties.  While all his bees use wildflowers, he had for sale “wildflower” honey and “Spring Floral” honey.  He described the “wildflower” honey has more sweet and fruity.

The Berkeley’s Farmers’ Market, run the city’s nonprofit Ecology Center, is dedicated to social issues such as organic farming, local agriculture and providing a connection between urban residents and local farmers.  It is because of this activist spirit that Frank Parish of the Grand Lakes Veteran Outreach Project sets up a table.  A veteran himself, Parish seeks to raise awareness and money to provide treatment for soldiers returning from the War on Terror.  Parish said the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide enough counselors for soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He comes to the Farmers’ Market to try to raise awareness in the Berkeley area.  However, Parish often is frustrated by what he calls a hypocritical attitude towards veterans by Berkeley residents.  He said that he finds it disappointing that while many people here speak out against the war, no one really seems to want to help the veterans.  Despite Berkeley’s reputation for openness, Parish said that “the people here are not embracing” of the veterans or what he is trying to do.

For more information on The Berkeley Farmers’ Market, contact the Ecology Center at (510) 548-3333.