Two new -- and very different -- farmers' markets recently opened in the East Bay.
In February, Stuart Skorman, owner of Elephant Pharmacy on the corner of Shattuck and Cedar in Berkeley, contacted the Berkeley Farmers' Market with a proposition. Looking to draw attention to the new pharmacy and bolster its Whole Foods-like image, he offered the use of its parking lot rent-free for an organic market.
The local merchants' association and the Ecology Center, which runs both the Tuesday and Saturday markets in Berkeley, had been looking for such an opening for years. Within months, market manager Penny Leff and company had assembled enough vendors to pack the small lot. "Right now we've got about fourteen farmers and four other vendors," she says. All are familiar names to organic-food fetishists: Lucero Farms, Dirty Girl Farms, Flying Disk Dates, Phoenix Pastaficio, and Vital Vittles, to name a few.
The new market will open from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. every Thursday through October 16. Leff says that if this first season goes well, she hopes to enlarge the market by securing an entire block to shut down once a week. For more information on the new market, visit the Ecology Center's Web site at www.ecologycenter.org
Meanwhile, the West Oakland Food Project, a coalition of food policy and environmental groups, has spearheaded the opening of a slightly different farmers' market. For the past couple of months, every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., six or seven small vegetable stalls have set up at the gas station across from the West Oakland BART station on 7th Street and Mandela Parkway.
The African-American Farmers of California, a coalition of five family farms, is selling tomatoes, corn, and greens. Lacha Her's table has great-looking spring onions and water spinach, and Bang's strawberries are as red and sweet as any you'll find. Two teenagers from the Oakland Butterfly and Urban Gardens after-school program are hawking bundles of thyme, wildflowers, and chard, while a Salvadoran woman at the card table next to them sells homemade pupusas and tamales from an insulated cooler.
The fledgling Mandela Farmers' Market is the first step in the coalition's goal of bringing fresh produce and healthy eating habits to the neighborhood. With a little grant funding, community organizers David Rhodes, Margaret Mujua, and Dana Harvey have recruited ten to twelve farmers from Fresno.
They're now working to attract the locals' attention, aided by $5,000 worth of coupons they distributed around the community. "We collected $300 in coupons last Saturday," Harvey says. The market will soon accept food stamps.
Organic is not the goal; sustainable family farming is. "We're not about having a trendy little farmer's market," Harvey says. "It's about getting food to the people, educating the community, and providing support to small family farms so they can carry on their role as stewards of the earth and healers of our bodies."