BERKELEY, Calif. — There was once a time when grocery stores didn’t exist, and the only way to acquire fresh produce was to attend farmers’ markets. Many years later, while “fresh” produce is available in almost every grocery store, the real deal is still at farmers’ markets. At the Farmers’ Market in downtown Berkeley, more than 50 vendors gather every Saturday to sell their crops to customers eager to eat and enjoy fresh food. These weekly gatherings also serve as a hub for a “greener” way of life. Winemakers using new methods of farming are producing their wine, while solar companies explain the benfits of harnessing the sun’s energy. Prepared food vendors offer different types of food, as well as a $1 charge for not bringing your own bowl to eat out of.
The market takes place four times per week, each in a different location on different days of the week. For the past 23 years, people have been able to visit the markets and buy fresh food. When one of the markets was affected by nearby construction, its location was moved to a more ideal spot, ending problem of a neighborhood being in a food desert. While some said the market would die in the area because it was lower income, the market instead boomed, and like the others, accepts food stamps.
The Ecology Center’s Dylan Cardiff, operations manager at the market, began coming to the market as a stay-at-home dad for his two children, but wanted to get out of the house once a week. Soon, he was a volunteer, meeting all the farmers and forming bonds with everyone in the market. Three years later, he was working two nights a week, no longer a volunteer. Fast forward two more years, and he has a full-time job as the operations manager.
Cardiff attributed part of his interest to his parents and grandparents, all of whom had gardens. As a young parent, he began to experiment with food, fermenting his own bread. He writes about his ventures in food on his blog.
Grant Hartwell was at the market representing Benziger Family Wine. It was formulated using crops grown using biodynamic methods. Biodynamic is farming with great emphasis on soil vitality, making sure the soil is clean and free of pesticides that would change the growth of the crop. Biodynamics yield crops grown the healthier, Hartwell said. His wine has been at the market for about a year.
At another of the more than 30 booths, A.J. Taylor sat at a small table handing out fliers detailing solar energy. He is a college student at California State University-Sacramento, at the market to advertise for his company. He said he loves what he does at the market, as many of the people are friendly and always interested in greener energy alternatives. He has been to the market twice, and said each time was great for business. He said he likes to write, and has written for his school newspaper’s sports section. He also works for his solar company when he’s out of school.