The original organic: Berkeley’s farmers’ market

BERKELEY, Calif. –

Sign welcoming customers to the berkeley farmers' market. Photo by Evan Stark

Farmers’ markets have become a recent fad in many major cities within the U.S.  Ben Feldman, however, doesn’t do it because it is popular, nor has he just been doing them recently.  Since 1987, Feldman, program manager of the Ecology Center, has been running multiple farmers’ markets throughout the city, both on different days and in different locations.  He practices a rigorous process of application and selection as he promotes diversity among food vendors. “It’s not first-come, first-serve,” said Feldman, who has many applicants in his active application folder. Feldman requires that organic famers possess a certified producers certificate, which assures the quality of their products for the concern and safety of the consumers. Feldman hand-selects his vendors, providing a diverse, safe and organic milieu for his farmers’ market consumers.

Peaking at 65, the vendors of the Berkeley farmers’ market sell a varied and colorful plethora of organic produce.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and foreign cuisine like Indian and Thai food can be purchased from the smiling vendors who line the street, and folk music can be heard from the various entertainers that keep customers entertained between shops.

As one of the leading organic farmers’ markets in the country, Feldman holds all the vendors to a strict policy of organic food and zero waste.  This equates to a complete absence of genetically modified organisms, as well as the insecticides methobromide and methoiodide. Through his committment to organic produce, Feldman has paved the way for a rising number of organic farmers’ markets.

In many ways Berkeley is leading the movement in organic farmers’ markets, as well as the food and waste management revolution.  With its own Health Department, Feldman added that Berkeley is able to grant mobile and temporary food vendor licenses with more ease and less beaurecratic frustration than most other cities, making it far more simple to establish farmers’ markets.  In addition, Feldman’s Ecology Center runs a nonprofit curbside recycling program.

A variety of produce on sale at the market. Photo by Evan Stark

Feldman wants his market to reflect the community. “Our main purpose is to connect urban consumers with rural farmers,” said Feldman. His goal is to give consumers direct access to fresh seasonal produce in a friendly, community-oriented atmosphere. In order to ensure that consumers are receiving only the best produce, Feldman requires farmers to be from California in order to be a vendor at his market. “Eighty-five percent of our vendors come from within 100 miles,” Feldman said, “and the rest within 200 [miles].” Having such a high percentage of local farmers ensures the freshness of the produce and also meets Feldman’s overall goal of directly connecting consumers with fresh, local and seasonal produce.