Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A New Home for the Berkeley Tuesday Farmers’ Market

By Luke Tsai
Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 12:02 PM

At two o’clock yesterday afternoon, the Berkeley Tuesday farmers’ market opened for business for the first time at its new location, along a parking bay at the intersection of Adeline and 63rd Streets. Within a half an hour, the market was fairly bustling with a mix of new faces and old — longtime customers reorienting themselves to find their favorite stalls, and folks from the neighborhood strolling out to take a look.

The new layout is less compact than it was at the market’s original Derby Street location, and street parking, while plentiful, seems a bit more spread out too. But despite the new digs, there is plenty that clearly hasn’t changed: It’s the same collection of vendors, the same ladies hawking copies of Street Spirit, the same glorious mid-summer produce.

Most of the farmers seemed upbeat about the change, which moved the South Berkeley market further south by about a mile, into the Lorin district.

“We as a farm are excited,” said Travis Jackson, who was working at the Dirty Girl Produce stall. “This is going to open up the market to a new section of the community and bring North Oakland a little closer.”

Nevertheless, the move was tinged with a touch of the bittersweet. Organized by the non-profit Ecology Center, the Berkeley Tuesday farmers’ market had 25 years of history at its original Derby Street location, making it the city’s longest-running market.

With change comes uncertainty. Among those who were feeling nervous was Didar Singh Khalsa, the proprietor of Guru Ram Das Orchards, who has been selling fruit at the Tuesday market for 22 years.

Regarding the market’s relocation, Khalsa said, “We’ve got a lot of people that are excited, and then there are a lot of people that are saying, ‘What the hell are you doing?’

Khalsa said that he was “noncommittal” about the move for now. The nervousness, he explained, stems from how important the success of the Tuesday market has always been for his business.

Ben Feldman, the farmers’ markets director for the Ecology Center, confirmed that many community members have expressed their attachment to the old Derby Street location. Ultimately, though, economic factors necessitated the move. According to Feldman, vendors at the farmers’ market have reported declines in sales over the course of the past several years.

“Our core shopper base is very dedicated to that market, but we couldn’t find new people,” he explained.

Assuming the “core” base follows the market to Adeline Street, there’s reason to think the new spot might help attract some new customers. For starters, the site is more visible, positioned as it is in front of several local businesses, including Sweet Adeline Bakeshop (located right in the heart of the market).

The other motive behind the move was more “mission driven,” Feldman said. In general, the Lorin district doesn’t have a lot of access to fresh fruits and vegetables — the nearest full-service grocery store, Berkeley Bowl, is about a mile away. The Tuesday market will provide another option for people who live in the neighborhood.

Initially, there was also some speculation that the move was driven by the Berkeley Unified School District’s impending construction project, in which a regulation-size baseball field will be build on the field adjacent to the old Derby Street location. But Feldman downplayed the role the construction project had in the decision to relocate the farmers’ market. While the construction project was going on, it would have been a big disruption to the market, he explained. Moving now, as opposed to later, allows them to avoid that disruption.

As before, the Tuesday farmers’ market will open at 2:00 p.m. each week, though it will close a half an hour earlier, at 6:30 p.m. On July 24, the market will hold a grand opening celebration for its new location, featuring a theater performance by The Shotgun Players, live jazz, and African dancing and music with Rehema Afful-Nyannor.

The Ecology Center runs two other farmers’ markets in Berkeley — a Saturday market downtown and an all-organic Thursday market near the Gourmet Ghetto — as well as a newer market in Albany.

Got tips or suggestions? Email me at Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com. Otherwise, keep in touch by following me on Twitter @theluketsai, or simply by posting a comment. I'll read ‘em all.

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