In an intriguing and exciting development, the North Berkeley Farmers’ Market plans to broaden its product selection and help foster small vendor inclusivity by removing its all-organic certified vendor requirement.
The decision to lift the all-organic certification mandate for agricultural vendors at the North Berkeley market comes as a response to challenges surrounding product diversity and equitable access for smaller growers. The Ecology Center, while making this change, affirms unwavering commitment to maintaining the highest quality standards, with organic growers continuing to receive prioritization.
This strategic shift aims to provide shoppers with a more extensive array of choices, bolster support for venders by attracting a larger customer base, and allow access to vend for small and marginalized farmers who find the costs of organic certification prohibitive. The move is rooted in the principle of inclusivity and service, aligning with the market’s values of accessibility for all.
One of the key attractions of the Ecology Center’s Tuesday and Saturday Farmers’ Markets in Berkeley has been their diverse product offerings. But Thursday market shoppers may have noticed the absence of certain items, such as dates, bitter melon, moringa, avocados, and cheese.
Reflecting on the market’s journey, it’s worth noting that when the North Berkeley Market was launched in 2004, it was a pioneering venture, being one of the few all-organic markets in the entire country. Throughout the years, the Ecology Center has maintained its commitment to farmers practicing sustainable growing methods and actively encouraged third-party organic certification.
Recognizing the potential for positive change, the Ecology Center has acknowledged the challenges faced by uncertified new and small family farmers seeking entry into the Thursday market. Issues such as the high cost, long transition period, and administrative complexities associated with organic certification have made the certification prohibitively expensive for small and marginalized growers. For example, over the years, North Berkeley market organizers have turned away many woman and POC-owned farmer vendor applicants because they did not meet the organic requirement. Additionally, some shoppers have expressed frustration with the limited selection at the market, choosing to shop at other markets instead. These considerations prompted a reevaluation of how best to support small California farmers and market shoppers in building a sustainable, healthy, and equitable food system.
The Berkeley Farmers’ Markets value community input and engagement. The Ecology Center consulted with existing vendors, shoppers, staff (past and present), and their Community Advisory Board. The decision to remove the all-organic requirement was made with the full support of the Ecology Center Board of Directors. The market welcomes feedback, questions, and suggestions from the community as it embarks on this transformative journey. Community involvement is regarded as vital in shaping the market’s future.
On that note, the Ecology Center welcomes Stepladder Ranch & Creamery to the Thursday North Berkeley Market starting on October 5th. While not organic certified, Stepladder Ranch & Creamery is a small independent producer that practices sustainable agriculture and offers delectable cheese, meat, and subtropical fruits. They are the first Thursday dairy and avocado vendor in quite some time. We hope that patrons enjoy this new addition, and future additions, as we bring more product variety and vendor diversity to the market.