More movement than market in downtown Berkeley

BERKELEY, Calif. — Walking through the downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market, it’s easy to lose yourself among the chaos. Bicyclists pedal undaunted through the crowded aisle of stalls, small children straggle at the heels of their parents and street musicians fill the already buzzing air with resonating strums on their guitars. On a clear, warm, Saturday afternoon in early August, the market is at peak excitement, working to make last-minute sales before closing at 3 p.m. Within the brightly colored awnings and trucks, more than 60 vendors are collecting sales for their locally grown and organic products. But the Farmers’ Market is cultivating more than just steady business. It is nurturing a movement.

 

Market customers examine bins of organic fruits and vegetables in the final hour before closing.

Market customers examine bins of organic fruits and vegetables in the final hour before closing. Photo by Ashten Luna.

Near the end of the busy street, Carleen Weirauch tends to the Weirauch Farm & Creamery stall. A row of delicate cheeses rest behind a panel of glass; a small bowl of sample pieces sits nearby. Engaging a steady stream of customers with a smile, she seems perfectly at ease. No one would ever guess that her business was a relatively new project.

“My husband and I started this ourselves,” Weirauch says proudly. “We don’t come from farming families.”

Following their shared interest in animals and cultivation, the Weirauchs began raising their own dairy sheep for cheese. The decision soon blossomed into a healthy business. Weirauch speaks warmly of the market and the relationships she has built with both her customers and other vendors.

“But most importantly, I feel like there is a movement here — one on political, social and economic levels,” she says, pausing to wave to a passing couple. Weirauch goes on to describe how the Farmer’s Market has allowed people to support their local growers and economies, all while receiving the freshest and healthiest produce available. Delving beyond the well known “eat locally” motto that originated in Berkeley itself, she brings light to the idea that major food-selling corporations are interested only in profit, sometimes compromising factors of health and wellness while chasing the dollar.

“We use our business as a soapbox,” Weirauch says. “We want to do the right thing.”

She holds up a piece of cheese, carefully wrapped in clear cellophane. She explains the decision to change the wrappings to a biodegradable material, despite the considerable expense. Using regular cellophane just didn’t feel right, considering their mission statement to better people, business and the environment, she said.

Moving along through the market, it becomes evident that the Weirauchs are not the only vendors to feel that way. Aurora Jones of Goodfaith Farms, proctoring the sales of organic olives and olive oil, commented on the “disengaged democracy” that people are living in.

“Americans should demand more transparency on where their food is coming from. This market closes the gap between where food comes from and you.” Jones says. ” The social fabric of it is beautiful for us, as well.”

The bonds formed within the market community are tightly knit. With a slightly misty eye, she turns to gaze upon the sea of vendors surrounding her.

Charles Gatto, busy distributing samples of his Gattonelli Tomato Juice, agrees with the market’s movement toward a better food source.

“We were the first people to bring the Farmers’ Market back,” Gatto explains. “This is an opportunity for consumers to have high quality fresh foods, and that can lead to a healthier society.”

As the afternoon winds down, the market aisle begins to clear. Vendors call out final sales and then begin to pack away their crates and cloth-draped tables. Street musicians conclude their last songs and return their instruments to worn cases. The market disperses at last, leaving the street bare and strangely silent after all the excitement. What lingers in the late-afternoon air  is the imminent return of the home-grown trade and the sparkling promise of doing a little bit of good in the world.

“You will have to find meaning in any work you do,” Weirauch says. “We found that meaning in trying to do what is right.”